- - Sunday, March 31, 2019

What kind of welcome should the Nationals and their fans have Tuesday, when the lover who left them behind, Bryce Harper, returns to Nationals Park for the first time as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies?

Should Washington take the high road — a nice, warm video featuring all of Harper’s greatest hits, topped off with his remarkable Home Run Derby win at last year’s All-Star Game? Highlights interspersed, perhaps, with all those pledges of love he made to Washington?

Should Washington chose to ignore the disrespect Harper and his circus handler, Scott Boras, showed the Lerner family, the Nationals organization and its fans? After he signed his minute-long historic $330 million 13-year sentence with Philadelphia, Harper ridiculed the offer the Nationals made before free agency.

“About $100 million of that contract was deferred ‘til I was 65 years old,” Harper told reporters. “It’s like, ‘What does that do for me? What does that do for my family?’”

Oh — it’s a family thing.

This is simply not true, part of the disinformation campaign Harper and Boras have waged since taking the Phillies offer to make it look more impressive.

Then Harper said all anyone ever talked about while he was in Washington was when he would leave.

“From Day 1, when I got drafted, it was all about, ‘He’s going to the Yankees,’” Harper said. “‘He’s going to the Dodgers. He’s going here. He’s going there.’ For six years, it’s all everybody talked about. It’s all anybody wanted to talk about.”

When Boras is your agent and you are as celebrated a player as Harper was before he arrived in Washington, you have already punched your ticket to leave town.

Let’s go back to Day 1 — the first Harper press conference in August 2010 and his answer to the first question about selecting number 34:

“I grew up loving Mickey Mantle. When I was playing until I was 10 years old — I was always number 7. Then, one year, there was this kid who had number 7, so I chose 34 to match that.”

The Yankees apparently didn’t share that love.

Should Nationals fans warmly embrace their hero who told them, “I love it here. My heart lies here,” after his last game, and then never returned the phone calls that might have kept his heart here?

Or should this happen:

Invite Jonathan Papelbon — you know, the D.C. Strangler — to Nationals Park for Harper’s homecoming game with the Phillies Tuesday night and simply give him a seat right behind the visitor’s on-deck circle.

Have him just sit there — like Frank Pentangeli’s brother in “The Godfather: Part II”, when Pentangeli was about to testify before Congress against Michael Corleone. Pentangeli understood the unspoken message when he saw his brother and froze. Not a word was spoken.

A little too WWE for you? How about this:

The Nationals announce before the start of the game that they have signed Anthony Rendon for a multi-year, multi-million contract extension, with the Lerners, general manager Mike Rizzo and Rendon on the field for a ceremonial ink to paper moment.

That’s not likely to happen, though, for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be that Boras also represents Rendon and would not allow his prized client to be upstaged by one of his other clients.

Then again, like Rendon told us in spring training, Boras works for him.

There will probably be no such theatrics, though, save for whatever may happen when he faces Max Scherzer, who may be as fired up as Papelbon was that day in September 2015 when he choked Harper in the Washington dugout — striking a blow for much of the rest of the clubhouse.

Whatever they do, thanks to Trea Turner’s walk-off home run Sunday for the 6-5 win over the Mets avoiding the opening series sweep, at least the Nationals won’t look like a pathetic jilted lover to be pitied when Harper shows up.

We’ve seen bits and pieces of evidence of anger from Nationals fans toward Harper for his departure in the first few days of the season at Nationals Park, with a handful of fans creatively changing their Bryce Harper jerseys to reflect their feelings. But there are a lot of Harper jerseys out there, and I suspect most of those people will embrace the young baseball superstar who they fell in love with — for some, maybe their first baseball love.

So I doubt the reaction will be anything but mixed at worst, warm at best, for Harper’s return to Washington.

Maybe there will be a few chants of “Overrated” — referring to the latest player poll, this one in The Athletic that ranked Harper as the most overrated player in baseball. He’s a multiple-year winner, having captured the “Overrated” crown in ESPN polls two previous years.

But I suspect that Harper will be welcomed back with a civil reception.

After all, this isn’t Philadelphia.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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