- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Remember when Bryce Harper was a no-show in January at the Washington Nationals’ FanFest while he was in the midst of a contract dispute with the team, and his agent, Scott Boras, said he would hold some sort of fan “event” later to make up for it?

Well, I think we’re watching it right now.

I think this is “BryceFest.”

And you know what? As someone who took Harper to task for failing to show up for the fan festival, I think it’s safe to say, as the Nationals returned home Tuesday night to face the New York Yankees, that two consecutive National League Player of the Week awards is better than answering some questions from Charley and Dave on the stage at the Washington Convention Center.

After all, “BryceFest” is just the 10th time a player has won back-to-back Player of the Week honors since they started the award 41 years ago.

Before “BryceFest” returned to Nationals Park, the road show went 12-for-23, a .522 average, with a .656 on-base percentage and a 1.087 slugging percentage. He hit two doubles, one triple and three home runs with nine RBI, 10 runs scored and two stolen bases.

The week before, “BryceFest” produced a .455 average, 10 for 22, with six home runs, 13 RBI and a 1.318 slugging percentage. His six home runs and 12 RBI over three games during that first week made him just the fifth player even to produce those numbers of a three-game span.

Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees, Harper was first in baseball with 37 RBI, 36 runs, a .476 on-base percentage, a .729 slugging percentage, a 1.206 on-base plus slugging percentage and 36 walks, while also standing second in baseball with 14 home runs.

That is known as “BryceFest.”

Harper is so hot that the Nationals, in court on Monday to fight the Orioles over the cable money from MASN, should have just used the 22-year-old outfielder instead of their high-powered team of lawyers.

“Dude,” Harper would have told the judge, “This is a clown case, bro.”

If “BryceFest” somehow lasts the rest of the 2015 season … well, dude, like the man said when the Nationals signed Max Scherzer, “Where’s my ring?”

A Bryce Harper who fulfills the promise everyone has been waiting for since a 16-year-old kid from Las Vegas made the cover of Sports Illustrated changes everything for the Nationals. This team has won two National League East titles in the past three years with Harper as a rail car — not the locomotive — and its other superstar-in-waiting, Stephen Strasburg, also as part of the ensemble cast instead of as the leading man.

It’s been a testament to how deeply talented this team is.

But “BryceFest” is something different. It gives the faceless Nationals an identity, a swagger that they didn’t really have — despite Jayson Werth’s proclamations of 120 wins three years ago.

That was Werth — a good player who has been an important part of the Nationals’ success, but a garden gnome.

This is “BryceFest.”

It adds spice to a bland serving of baseball.

This is what Sports Illustrated wrote about Harper before the season started:

“When Bryce Harper answers a question, just as when he chases a fly ball to a wall or zooms helmetless around the base paths — with the most vigorously windblown hair since Pete Rose’s — he fairly leaves in his wake the aromas of spent nitromethane, burned rubber and exhaust smoke, which is to say, he wears the scent of danger like cologne.”

“You’ve got to have the confidence to win the World Series,” Harper told SI during spring training in Viera, Florida. “I truly believe if we’re hitting on all cylinders and guys do what they need to do, we’ll win, plain and simple.

“Am I saying that it’s going to be easy for us? No. But do we have the confidence? One hundred percent. You have to. I don’t care if you pick us to win the World Series or not. Every day when you get out of your car and walk into the park you better have that chip on your shoulder, that confidence to believe we’re the best team in baseball.”

Nitro, burned rubber and exhaust smoke — that’s “BryceFest.”

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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