WASHINGTON -- About 3 1/2 hours before the start of what could be his final home game at Nationals Park, Bryce Harper arrived to his locker Wednesday and immediately changed into his home white uniform.Harper admitted it was strange, thinking of arriving here and wearing another jersey, going to a
WASHINGTON -- About 3 1/2 hours before the start of what could be his final home game at Nationals Park, Bryce Harper arrived to his locker Wednesday and immediately changed into his home white uniform.
Harper admitted it was strange, thinking of arriving here and wearing another jersey, going to a different clubhouse and locker other than the one he has known for the entirety of his seven-year career. This week has forced him to consider Wednesday's rain-shortened 9-3 victory against the Marlins might have been the final time he donned the curly "W" at home in his career.
"I knew I wanted to get here and put the uni on right away and just cherish that moment, if it's going to be the last time or not," Harper said prior to the game. "I can't really stand here and say it's going to be farewell or anything like that, because nobody knows. Nobody knows what this offseason holds or anything like that."
Nobody anticipated Harper's potential final game in D.C. to arrive like this -- on a late Wednesday afternoon near the end of September with rain in the forecast, against a last-place opponent, with the Nationals mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.
Yet, the 28,680 fans in attendance showered Harper with an extended standing ovation each time he stepped into the batter's box, even as he went 0-for-4 with pairs of flyouts and strikeouts. Before the game, the video board played highlights of Harper winning the 2018 Home Run Derby and the sign on the roof of the building visible beyond center field was changed to read "8 More Years of 34!". Harper saw that sign and remarked, "I mean, eight years sounds kind of short."
Harper did his best to treat Wednesday as a normal game, trying not to consider his emotions as he ran out to right field, made his customary bow to the fans in the stands and shifted focus to his at-bats.
"I think just running out there, I wasn't really thinking about it being my last game or anything like that," Harper said. "You never know what's going to happen. So it really wasn't a farewell kind of treatment. It was just a normal day, going about the right way and trying to win. I was able to go out there and enjoy that, I guess, and not think too much about it being my last game or not being my last game. You never know what's going to happen. My heart lies here."
The expectations for this season were much grander than the 81-78 record the Nats currently own and the ramifications of falling short might forever linger as a missed opportunity for this franchise. Those within the Nationals organization have swatted away talk about their closing window and will continue to do so, but the reality is their biggest star and arguably their best player might not be back next year. What happens this offseason with Harper, Washington's lone National League MVP Award winner, will likely change the course of the franchise drastically.
"If you take a look around the stadium and see how many No. 34s kids wear and fans wear, that should tell you everything," manager Dave Martinez said. "If you watch what he did at the All-Star Game [and] in the Home Run Derby. When it was all over, he said two things: One, he did it for his dad, and he did it for the fans."
It's impossible to know where Harper will sign or for how long or how much money he will command. However, this week he has publicly stated his desire to remain in D.C. This city and this team are all that Harper has known since he was drafted at 17 years old and made his Major League debut at 19 in a 2012 season that ended with the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He says he hopes he is in the Nationals' plans for the future.
"I enjoy putting the 'W' on my chest every single day, and I have since the beginning," Harper said. "It's like I'm standing here like a 35-year-old, but I'm only 25. So it's my first time going through something like this of course. I've never done it in my life -- possibly playing my last game somewhere, anything like that -- and it really meaning something to me.
"This is my home. This is my city. Being able to come here -- of course I root for the Golden Knights and I root for Duke and I root for the Cowboys and things like that -- but I'm a Washington National. At the end of the day, I love this city, I enjoy coming here, I enjoy playing here."
Martinez had planned a grand exit for Harper, to let him run out to right field alone to start the ninth inning, but then sub Andrew Stevenson into the game and allow the fans to give Harper one final goodbye. The rain washed away those plans, however, and the final out of the game came with Harper standing in the on-deck circle to end the seventh.
"I definitely don't like the rain right now," Harper said.
Perhaps it is fitting, to have it all end so unceremoniously after such a tumultuous season for Harper personally and the Nationals as a whole. Or maybe, Wednesday will not be the ending at all, a sign of the unfinished business Harper still has left in D.C.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.