You would love Bryce Harper if he played for your team.
The face of the Washington Nationals franchise has been covered in so much eye black that he’s looked like a professional wrestler. He went viral when he dropped “That’s a clown question, bro” on a reporter. He responded to getting thrown out of last week’s marquee game against the New York Yankees by firing back at umpire Marvin Hudson through the media: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump tonight.”
“I don’t know what everybody else doesn’t like,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I like players that play hard and care and obviously he’s pretty good. So I probably would like him.”
Maddon laughed at that line, knowing Harper is the rare superstar who combines off-the-charts talent with maximum effort. At the age of 22, Harper led the majors in RBI (41), runs scored (39), walks (39), on-base percentage (.471) and slugging percentage (.728) on Memorial Day. His 16 homers led the National League.
Harper didn’t beat the Cubs on Monday afternoon, but the Nationals still managed to piece together a 2-1 victory, getting by with home runs from Denard Span and Wilson Ramos and a shutdown performance from their deep pitching staff.
The Cubs (24-20) got a good crowd (38,463) for a holiday and the first-place Nationals. Harper definitely appreciates the game’s history and wants to perform on the biggest stages. Just look at those four homers in 40 postseason at-bats already.
“I love Wrigley,” Harper said. “You go out there to see the ivy, see the fans. I’m kind of sad there’s not going to be anybody in right field for me. But it’s a lot of fun playing here.
“I enjoy playing here and San Fran and Boston. Those are the three. It just feels like you’re in a ballpark in your backyard playing the game.”
In what appeared to be a mismatch, lefty Tsuyoshi Wada struck out Harper looking in the first inning. Harper sprinted for a double in the fourth inning after smacking a ball into right field, alertly tagging up when first baseman Anthony Rizzo caught up pop-up in foul territory, near the visiting bullpen.
It looked like Harper wanted to break his bat after popping out against Wada in the sixth inning. Harper worked a six-pitch walk against lefty reliever Zac Rosscup in the eighth inning.
Harper didn’t put on a show this time, but he will have two more chances this week at Clark and Addison.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to be here Wednesday night, because they’re all going to be at the Hawks game,” Harper said. “I think everybody’s excited about that, too.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Before the game, Harper stood at his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse and patiently answered questions from the Chicago media for six-plus minutes, understanding his responsibility as an ambassador for the game.
Harper tried to deflect attention away from himself, crediting his teammates and manager Matt Williams for his hot start. He also lavishly praised Kris Bryant, his old teammate/rival from Las Vegas, and how the Cubs have reshaped their organization.
“It’s just good for baseball to have two young guys on the same field,” Bryant said. “He’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. We’re just trying to help the team win. But, yeah, it was pretty cool seeing him out there today.”
Near the end of Harper’s media session, a reporter asked if he had checked the flags whipping around the stadium.
“No, I haven’t,” Harper said and smiled. “I don’t need wind. I’m good.”