- - Thursday, June 8, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Welcome home, Bryce Harper. You had a busy road trip for a guy hitting .154 for the last week.

By the way, you’ll have to wait a while before your new favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, come to town. They’ll be in at the end of the month.

The last we saw Harper, he was telling youth baseball players that their participation trophies were worthless and the only thing that mattered was being number one.

A few days later he was charging the mound in San Francisco to fight San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, who clearly hit Harper with a purpose pitch over a grudge he was carrying from the 2014 National League Division Series.

By the way, the word is that Strickland had told Buster Posey and his Giants teammates that the pitch was coming and not to stop Harper when he charged the mound. Strickland wanted a piece of Harper, who seems to really get under the skin of relief pitchers in particular – even ones on his own team.

Soon, every piece of Harper will be up for bid.

The road trip ended with veteran baseball reporter Peter Gammons saying that the Cubs — the 2016 World Series champions — were now Harper’s team of choice when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.

“You know, I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs,” Gammons told 670 The Score radio in Chicago last week.

Now, that could have evolved through all sorts of different circumstances —possibly Harper and Cubs star Kris Bryant, long-time friends, talking about how cool it would be for them to play together on the same team. Maybe it was something that they talked about years ago when they were both youth baseball stars back in Nevada. Or maybe it’s really what Harper wants.

Both are represented by Scott Boras, who in Harper likely has the first $400 million — wait, maybe $500 million — player in baseball waiting to hit the market after the Washington Nationals’ contractual control of the superstar ends following the 2018 season.

Gammons has since said his comments were misconstrued, and that if he had to guess, he would pick the New York Yankees as Harper’s next team.

Boy, this Harper contract story may wind up being more fun than the Kirk Cousins’ contract chronicles. We may not have championships in this town, but no one tops us when it comes to player contract controversies.

The Yankees remain a good guess. Plus, no one seems to be guessing that Harper stays here in Washington.

From the book, “The Last Natural,” about Harper’s decision to leave high school two years early, take his GED exam and, at the age of 16, play for the College of Southern Nevada, a junior college with a top baseball program:

Bryce Harper started almost every day before sunrise by glancing at the vintage Mickey Mantle poster on his bedroom wall before charging downstairs. It’s a photo of the Mick surrounded by all of his baseball cards with his signature. Harper’s grandfather, Jim Brooks, had paid a buddy $800 for it and gave it to Bryce.

“His first few years in the game, Harper wore number seven as a tribute to Mantle. When he was 10 someone else on his Desert Storm club team had that number and wouldn’t yield it. Harper settled on number 34. Add the two figures and it still honored Mantle. “Pinstripes are in his blood” Brooks said.

The pinstripes have been bleeding money of late at Yankee Stadium. They may need Harper.

Tickets and suite revenues at the ballpark have fallen by $166 million — a 42 percent loss — since the end of 2009, the year the new Yankee Stadium opened and the season when the last World Series championship for the franchise, according to the New York Times. And even with the first-place Aaron Judge Yankees this year, attendance is down from last season, when New York was a fourth-place team, by nearly 1,000 fans per game .

Reportedly, the Yankees are courting millennials to stop the bleeding.

Just consider Bryce Harper the Millennial Messiah.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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