Nationals fans finally got to witness their franchise star take home a championship. Thank goodness.
We will always have the Home Run Derby.
Even if Bryce Harper (finally heading toward free agency after seven years in Washington) and the Nationals (mired halfway through the season at .500) fail to make headway this fall, we will always have the video.
Not the one of Harper’s 45th home run of the evening, the one that earned him the 2018 Home Run Derby crown. Not of him pointing to the sky. Not of him besting Freddie Freeman or Max Muncy or Kyle Schwarber. There will be all of that, of course, in sumptuous high-res. But the videos that matter more are the bad ones — the blurry ones, the unsteady ones on cellphones scrawled with glare and digital zoom. The ones taken from the stands.
On Monday night, Harper did what he has so often been unable to do in Nationals Park: He won it all. It happened, of course, in the only professional ballpark he’s ever known, as his dad served up meatballs and — OK — a few hey-you-know-he’s-supposed-to-hit-this-right? balls, the air still smoky from a pre-Derby fireworks show that didn’t take into account the full, heavy, unmoving wetness of a D.C. summer. A literal siren heralded his approach to the plate and shiny red streamers lay coiled and waiting in the beams around home plate. Nationals tickets will be $45 cheaper tomorrow in his honor. You can thank Bryce.
The Home Run Derby is a standing sort of affair, at least for just about everyone in any part of the field that might fairly be considered the outfield, plus some parts that might not. But by the end of a hot Washington night, more than a few of those leaning together in mashed-tater range had sunk back down. But each time Harper approached the plate, they stood again. When he tied Schwarber’s 18-home-run mark with a second to spare in the finals, Nats Park shook.
It’s a meaningless contest, yes. And one that heavily favors, under its current structure, the second batter, which Harper was in each of the rounds he competed in. And it’s a matchup that is willing to bend its own rules vis-à-vis the first-ball-must-land-before-the-second-can-be-hit requirement.
Whatever! Who cares? I mean, besides Cubs fans — bless their hearts, but we’ve, you know, maybe heard enough for now; go to your free zoo, it will be OK. The Derby is silly for silliness’s sake, which is how you get Harper literally skipping down the tunnel to the field before the final round. The big kid who would make baseball fun again did, for at least one night, exactly that.
Think of all the terrible videos of Harper that live in pockets around the DMV. The reflex to capture your own is understandable — he comes up to the plate and you raise your phone, hold as steady as you can, and pinch it in on him, knowing that ESPN or Fox 5 or wherever will have much better video should you look for it, but wanting this token of when Bryce did the thing. Specifically of the thing — blurry — and then of your screams — loud — and the lurch as you jump in delight and pan to friends and a sea of red all cheering and dancing: Bryce did the thing, the Nationals will do the thing, the thing that’s been promised just about every spring since he came to town.
Except that he often doesn’t do it. He grounds into a waiting glove. He strikes out. He hits hard — and it arcs up and then down to some waiting other guy. He makes the last, dismal out of the 2017 NLDS. It’s not his fault that the Nationals have sputtered out again and again, but he’s always been the one who’s supposed to break that up. Not everyone will have deleted the bad videos, the could-have-been ones, and so they bounce around in backpacks and khaki pockets and no-nonsense leather clutches, crisscrossing K Street and flying in and out of Dulles and going out to the shore during crab season and coming inexorably back to Nats Park, so many months or years after the initial disappointment.
“I was very fortunate to share that with you tonight,” Harper said late Monday of his success in his home park. He choked up. And why not? A whole park on its feet, wearing his team’s colors, chanting his name.
And a whole city’s worth of distant, blurry cellphone videos of the moment, at last, that Bryce did it all.