It was the wee hours of the morning when the Washington Nationals touched down at Dulles Airport on Monday. In the previous 60 hours, Bryce Harper had traveled more than 5,300 miles. From Syracuse to Los Angeles to Washington.
But the 19-year-old phenom’s energy is boundless. Manager Davey Johnson joked he’d like to get a platelet-rich plasma shot from Harper. “I need some of that blood in me,” he said Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before Harper would have his D.C. coming out party.
Fellow call-up Tyler Moore slept until 2 p.m. he was so exhausted. Not Harper. Instead of sleeping in, allowing his body to adjust to the whirlwind of the past few days, Harper was up and out early. He stopped at Georgetown Cupcake, waited in just a five-minute line to get the red velvet treat he’d been craving and stumbled upon a school field trip. So he stopped and posed for pictures with all the kids inside the small bakery.
Then it was off to the Lincoln Memorial, a landmark Harper hadn’t seen in his two previous trips to D.C. — the first for his introductory news conference after signing and the second for the 2011 Fan Fest. And he checked off other Washington highlights on the way. The White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument.
“I think everything in the city is really cool,” Harper said, his eyes widening excitedly when asked his opinion of the Lincoln Memorial. “There are so many historic facts behind the city. I don’t think you could play in a better city. Everything happens here every single day.”
As he traversed the mall, Harper stumbled upon a slow-pitch softball game. The players, unsurprisingly, recognized him. “I think they see the rat tail and the tattoos,” he quipped, referencing his unique hairstyle.
They asked him to step in and take a few hacks. Harper resisted, but they insisted. He relented, and stepped into the box in his jeans and button up T-shirt as the players hurriedly got video cameras rolling.
Harper smiled slightly as the moment was brought up to him Tuesday, upwards of 10 cameras and at least 30 reporters crowded around him on the field at Nationals Park. Harper spent his first off day as a major leaguer acclimating himself with the city. He was relaxed. From cupcakes to a steak dinner at The Palms later in the evening, the reality began to set in.
After a lifetime of driving toward a singular goal, and doing so in a manner that prompted Johnson to call him perhaps the most driven athlete he’s ever been around, he had arrived.
“When I got to L.A., I got really comfortable,” Harper said. “I got up here, and I was really comfortable with things. In Triple-A, it was like, ‘Ah, I’ve got to prove this, I’ve got to do things to get back up to the big leagues because I want to be there so bad.’ Once I got up here, it was like a calm went over my body. It was like ‘You’re here, play the game.’ “
“I think it’s really going to set in when I run out to left field. Those chills, they’re going to come right back.”
General manager Mike Rizzo said he doesn’t really buy the theory that it’s sometimes easier for players to hit in the big leagues, the idea being there’s less pressure to perform because you’re already here. Rizzo did concede that, for Harper, “the brighter the lights, the better he plays.”
But Johnson agreed with the idea that his comfort level would rise higher here than it did in Syracuse. As Harper stood on the field Tuesday afternoon he explained why: “I don’t think I have to prove anything.”
How long he stays this time remains to be seen. In two games, Harper has displayed all of the jaw-dropping talent he possesses. Outside of getting his first home run, he’s been able to show off almost every reason he’s as touted as he is. He’s been able to show why, when his teammates heard the news, they were excited.
“I saw that and I was like ‘No. Way. That is awesome,’ ” closer Drew Storen said.