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Harper’s Homeboyz hold it down in center field

Five seasons ago, Jorge Bernardo was an Orioles fan. Now, he's ringleader of a growing Nationals Park institution.

An ex-girlfriend originally began pulling the Alexandria, Va., native's rooting allegiance across the Beltway about four years ago, and the transition was complete when he bought his own Nats tickets this season. Bernardo took his fandom a step further this summer, helping organize Harper's Homeboyz -- a group of about 100 banner-waving, eyeblack-wearing, hustle-promoting die-hards in the center-field stands.

One of those Homeboyz is Malika Ash Shakur.

"I was chillin' at a game by myself and [Jorge] came over to me and introduced himself," she said. "Apparently I had what they represent in their group, which is positivity and energy and just mad love for the Nats -- mad Natitude."

The Homeboyz coordinate their efforts through a Facebook page, with typical turnout around 20 fans per game. Harper has been known to salute the cheering section when he takes the field.

With the rookie phenom only expected to improve and Natitude levels rising to unprecedented levels around D.C., Bernardo envisions his group expanding in the seasons to come.

"I've seen a lot of changes this year and a lot of changes over the last five years," he said. "But specifically, it comes with winning. It's been fun to see sort of pseudo-fans come out and act like real fans ... but it's all good because they're excited and having a good time. It'll grow and they'll catch on."

-- Ian Kay /

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