- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Well, the hangover from the Washington Wizards’ and Washington Capitals’ early playoff exits didn’t last long, did it?

The cure? The 2015 version of the Washington Nationals — something different this town hasn’t experienced since the early days of the Washington Senators.
There’s a party on South Capital Street, and everyone seems to want an invitation — more than 150,000 fans came to Nationals Park for this five-game homestand.

If there is a hangover now, it’s because the Nationals went back on the road.
We’ve seen winning, first-place teams at Nationals Park before. We’ve seen large crowds before. After all, two National League East division titles in three years have certainly been cause for attention and celebration.

But this year feels different. This time, there’s a little edge to it, a little craziness in the air.

This year, there’s a lot of “BryceFest” and “Mad Max.”

We’re getting a full serving of Bryce Harper so far this season, and it’s meaty and spicy — from the dramatic game-winning home runs to the controversial ejections by umpires not buying into “BryceFest.”

Harper feeds off the crowds, and the crowds feed off Harper.

“I thrive on big crowds,” Harper told reporters on Sunday, before the team left for Chicago. “I love playing in front of a lot of people. I’m not trying to be rude, but a little crowd, I can’t stand it.

“This homestand was epic, having the fans that we did,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. We were in it. We thrive off of that. I think they can sense we’re going to do something special, and we want to do that for them.”

It’s that kind of postgame statement that, of course, drives other teams and their fans crazy. But that’s part of what is taking place at Nationals Park. Previously, it had been home to a team that people didn’t either care about or know existed.

Now it’s baseball’s lightning rod, igniting passion from both fans and opponents — such as Philadelphia Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, who objects to the Nationals Park practice of playing musical soft ballads over the public address system when the opposing team is taking batting practice.

“It’s bush league,” Sandberg told reporters.

The Nationals — the team Washington loves and the rest of America hates.
That falls right in line with the personality of the nation’s capital — but now, instead of bureaucrats, the city can fight back with its baseball team.

The topping on “BryceFest” is newcomer Max Scherzer, who has not only delivered on the mound, with a 5-3 record and a 1.67 ERA in nine starts, but with a touch of insanity that has been missing from this Boy Scout troop.
They call him “Mad Max” and they say it with a pinch of truth.

He seems to have delivered something a little special, like Harper said, to this team with his chocolate syrup game-winning celebrations that now have taken on a life of their own — dousing the game-winning player, like Ryan Zimmerman last week with the game-winning home run against the New York Yankees.

Fans love it, and it has become some sort of identity for this team.

“It’s just something to top off a good win,” Scherzer told reporters after dousing Zimmerman last week. “Chocolate sauce is the perfect topping for ice cream, so might as well top off a game and give that person in the on-the-field camera interview a little something to taste. It tastes good. It’s better than a pie in your face.”

Scherzer said it was a celebration of “baseball players doing baseball things.”
Zimmerman, though, described it after the game as a “pretty aggressive celebration.”

Read between the lines there — it has the potential to backfire.

So far, it’s all fun and games.

“I can’t wait for that. I hope he throws a no-hitter or does something extraordinary so we can get him,” center fielder Denard Span said. “But we’ve got to come [up with something] a little bit more clever than chocolate syrup. We might have to throw some nuts on him. Some whipped cream. Cherry. Everything.”

I’ve been in enough clubhouses over the years to know that something as simple as chocolate syrup in someone’s eye — even in the name of celebration — can lead to words behind closed doors and something more. It’s a little dangerous.

But then, that’s the 2015 Washington Nationals — a little dangerous.

• 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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