Certain wounds were still fresh for many who attended Tuesday’s game, barely five weeks after Bryce Harper officially signed with an NL East rival for 13 years and $330 million.
The consensus decision among Washington Nationals fans was to boo Harper as loudly as possible in his first visit back to Nationals Park as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
But the former National got the last laugh of the night — cementing “Round 1” of possibly 13 seasons of duels into the annals of baseball history.
Harper launched a two-run home run 458 feet in his final at-bat of the night as his Phillies remained undefeated and beat the Nationals, 8-2.
Max Scherzer struck Harper out in each of his first two at-bats, but Harper finished 3-for-5 with three RBI, including the eighth-inning home run and a double.
The first jeers rained down on the visiting villain when the Nationals played a minute-long video tribute for Harper before the game. The video recapped Harper’s seven seasons as a National, from his rookie campaign to his Home Run Derby victory at Nationals Park last July.
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But Harper’s hits triggered some visiting Philadelphia fans to chant “We’ve got Harper” and “M-V-P” — certainly not how the home crowd wanted the night to progress.
Besides the booing, fans continued to express themselves with some modified gear. Seven fans lined up in the first row of the right-field stands wearing shirts that spelled out “TRAITOR.”
Matt Cohn, 17, of Springfield, Virginia, wore a redone Washington Harper jersey. He taped paper over the 4 on Harper’s old No. 34 to make it a No. 31 — which Scherzer wears.
“Players come and go, but I thought (Harper) should have handled it better,” Cohn said.
Taking the opposite view was Nationals fan Dave Nilsen, 58, of Derwood, Maryland. Nilsen attends a few games a year and watches many games on TV. He wore his Harper jersey to the game — intact.
“He has the right to exist and find happiness,” Nilsen said. “He didn’t get the contract he wanted from the Nationals.”
But just in case Harper homered and the Phillies won, Nilsen also wore a No. 11 Ryan Zimmerman jersey underneath — to wear out of the park on his way home.
In a pregame press conference, Harper reiterated his gratitude to the Nationals and his excitement for the next chapter of his career, all while wearing a hat that fittingly read “Positive Vibes.” He was quick to say he expected to hear some boos — as well as some cheers.
“It’s baseball. It’s part of the game, it’s part of sports,” Harper said before the game. “So I hope I get a great one. Unfortunately, I think there’ll be some boos and things like that, but that’s part of the game. I think there’ll be some cheers as well. Like I said, I’ll always remember the memories we had here and the excitement and things like that. All the screams and cheers, I’ll always remember that.”
Harper arrived in the District on Monday and immediately checked out some of his favorite old haunts.
“Definitely weird taking a drive up to come down here and things like that, but very excited for my next chapter and looking forward to it,” he said. “Yesterday we drove straight to the Italian store. Definitely got a sandwich from there, and went to Acqua (Al 2) last night, which was really good, one of my favorite spots, and then this morning just hung out like just another day in another city, things like that.”
Changing teams is nothing new to Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who played for nine big league teams. Martinez became a manager for the first time in 2018 and said having Harper, a six-time All-Star, last year was memorable.
“It will definitely hold something (special) for a very long time,” Martinez said. “Bryce and I had a very good relationship. Like I said before, he is an unbelievable player. I wish him the best.”
Harper’s old locker at Nationals Park has been occupied by Howie Kendrick, a utility player who’s been stuck on the injured list with a hamstring issue. At other cubicles around the clubhouse, no former teammates harbored any animosity for Harper. Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who broke in with the Nationals in 2005, said he hoped Harper would become a Hall of Famer.
Outfielder Juan Soto, 20, whose emergence last year may have made Harper expendable, said Harper was one of the first players to approach him when he was called up to the majors last May. “I’m grateful to him,” Soto said.
But now, Soto felt he had to shift focus with Harper wearing a different uniform.
“It’s a business. We have to keep going,” Soto said.