Nationals fans are conflicted about Bryce Harper in the World Series

Nationals fans are conflicted about Bryce Harper in the World Series

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Like most Washington Nationals fans, Dean Schleicher was upset the day Bryce Harper agreed to a record 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in February 2019. Harper was Washington’s brash, energetic, homegrown superstar, a phenom worth the price of admission that others loved to hate. At 26 years old and after seven memorable seasons in DC, he was heading into a division rival with a fan base that Nationals fans had good reason to despise, and he seemed poised to torment his old team long after they had left. his well-groomed hair and beard turned grey.

Harper’s viral slip during his first press conference with the Phillies, when he said he “wanted to bring a title back to DC,” offered a brief and humorous respite from the initial disappointment, leading fans to defacing their No. 34 jerseys and at least one family to rename your goldendoodle. Months later, Schleicher, who tweeted the clip of Harper’s verbal gaffe, would enjoy the fact that the Nationals eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention in Harper’s first season in Philadelphia.

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Now with the Harper Phillies in the World SeriesFour wins away from bringing a championship back to the City of Brotherly Love, Nationals fans feel everything from upset to indifferent to even happy for the man who never won a playoff series with Washington. For some, time – and the 2019 Nationals title – heals all wounds.

“I watched my team win a World Series, so I’m not going to envy a former national to go get his ring,” Schleicher said. “I’m still a fan of Bryce, and I think he’s been inappropriately maligned because the fans hate Philly.”

Peter Verasin became a casual Nationals fan when his wife’s family obtained season tickets in 2005 during the team’s inaugural season in DC Harper’s arrival in 2012 rekindled his love of baseball, which had waned since the Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. retired in 2001. Verasin, 41, was optimistic Harper would play his entire career with Washington after seeing him win the 2018 home run derby in front of an adoring crowd at Nationals Park and later professing his love for the city, but instead stayed behind to try to explain the business of sports to his Nats-loving children.

For Verasin, who flew to Houston on a whim watching the Nationals win the 2019 World Series, watching Harper during these playoffs has evoked memories of some of his best moments with Washington. He couldn’t help but smile when Harper hit a two-run home run to the opposite field in the eighth inning of NLCS Game 5 to help the Phillies secure a spot in the Fall Classic.

“Seeing that home run, it was like, ‘Man, how can you not root for him?'” Verasin said.

“Because he plays for the Phillies and he left us,” said Mike Stanton, also a Nationals fan, when posed with that question.

Stanton, a die-hard DC sports fan, had a slightly different reaction to the biggest success of Harper’s career. He reminded her of when Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime for Canada against the United States in the 2010 gold medal game. Olympic Games.

“Like, why did it have to be to the?” Stanton said.

Stanton hasn’t forgiven Harper for signing with the Phillies, though he understands the financial reasons that led him to leave the Nationals. Harper wanted to stay in DC, but as The Washington Post reported after he signed with Philadelphia, the Lerner family offered him a much-deferred 12-year, $250 million contractwith the last payment in 2072.

“I understand that the fans are upset that he plays for the rival, but he went to the rival because what choice did he have? asked Schleicher, who called the Nationals’ offer to Harper ridiculous and insincere.

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“I was disappointed that he signed with the Phillies, but I understood that it was his decision and he did what he thought was best,” said Melissa Moss, who named her cat Bryce in 2018 and kept her name after Harper left town. . “I have no hard feelings towards him at all.”

Still, Stanton and many other Nationals fans couldn’t help but feel slighted. Harper was showered with boos on his return to Nationals Park, as did former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth it was for years by Philadelphia fans after he signed with the Nationals.

Matt Schulman, who said he probably would have joined the booing chorus had he been in the stadium for Harper’s first game in DC, said it’s been strange to see so many former nationals besides Harper, including Max Scherzer, Josh Bell, Juan Soto and Trea Turner, in the postseason with different teams.

“I definitely wasn’t rooting for them,” Schulman, 31, said. “The adult part of me wants to be happy for them because I really liked these players on the Nats and I should want them to do well, but they just don’t.

Instead, Schulman found quiet joy in seeing Scherzer deliver four home runs in the New York Mets’ Game 1 loss to the San Diego Padres in the first round. In his mind, the Phillies breaking through, with Harper in the lead, was one of the worst possible outcomes.

“It’s good for the game, but as a Nationals fan, you couldn’t have gotten a more painful result than him going to the Phillies and being this hero and leading them to the World Series,” Schulman said.

Unlike rooting for Soto and Bell on the Padres, rooting for Harper is complicated by the team he represents. Nationals fans’ deep-seated disdain for the Phillies and their fans dates back to the late 2000s, when the nascent Nats sucked and Harper was a teenager hitting 500-foot homers in high school exhibitions.

“It was Citizens Bank South here,” Schleicher said of the Phillies fans who fill the stands at RFK Stadium and Nationals Park – sometimes at the invitation of the Washington team president. “It would have been so much easier to watch the Padres move forward because I wouldn’t have those pangs when I see that stupid Phillie Phanatic dancing all over the place.”

Given the residual stench of 2017 cheating scandal looming over the Astros, Philadelphia’s opponent in the World Series, rooting for Houston isn’t an obviously superior alternative, even with the presence of beloved former Nationals manager Dusty Baker.

Schleicher is conflicted, but will root for the 73-year-old Baker to win his elusive first championship as coach. Harper, he thinks, should have a better chance of winning a ring, and she’ll be happy for him if he ever does. Moss will also support Baker. Stanton and Schulman can’t stand the thought of Harper lifting the trophy, though the Nats winning a title without him takes some of the sting out of the possibility.

Verasin, who sees some parallels between this Phillies team and the 2019 Nationals, said he’ll root for Harper to see him through to the end. There are more Nationals fans like him than could have been imagined in the immediate aftermath of Harper’s departure.

“It’s forgiveness, right?” he said. “You take the time to be angry or sad, but in the end you want what’s best for people, even your exes.”

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