The Washington Times - June 23, 2013, 01:33PM

The driving rain that pounded D.C. Sunday morning did nothing to dissuade the faithful fans lining up outside the center field gate at Nationals Park hours before they opened. They were there for a reason, for a collectible. For a Bryce Harper bobblehead.

It led to a fascinating scene later in the morning when Harper, who is on the disabled list with bursitis in his left knee but getting close to a rehab assignment, came out with a handful of other players to take on-field batting practice for the first time since being cleared to resume activities. 

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Normally, on a Sunday morning like this one, the ballpark is fairly empty with fans not filling the seats en masse until much closer to the 1:35 p.m. start time. But the bobbleheads brought them early. And Harper did not disappoint.

Harper sprayed line drives around the field, chatted with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo — all of whom watched from behind the cage while he hit.

And with each stroke that generated that Harper-trademark burst off the bat and landed in the seats, some crushed on a line shot in to the upper deck in right field at Nationals Park, the crowd squealed with delight. They oohed and aahed at the power of the Nationals’ phenom, even if it was only batting practice. The idea of getting Harper back in the Nationals’ lineup seemed tantalizingly close. 

When Harper and his teammates were done, as he flipped his bat toward the Nationals’ dugout and moved to help cleanup the many balls scattered on the field, those inside the park gave him a rousing ovation. For a lazy Sunday morning, it was a pretty cool moment.

“That’s why I hit,” quipped catcher Kurt Suzuki, when jokingly told it was a nice ovation the fans had given him. 

Harper later tweeted: “Well that felt unreal! #BP #Lovethefans”