A coach's relationship with their best player is always an important one and all throughout this winter and spring there was talk about the dynamic between new Nationals manager Dusty Baker and his prized pupil Bryce Harper. There were so many storylines from their generational difference to the fact Baker has played with and managed superstars before like Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
It's early, and everyone's happy when you start a season 14-4, but it's already clear that Harper really, really enjoys playing for Dusty. Take Sunday for example, both in their interactions throughout the day and in what they said about each other after the Nats' 16-inning marathon win over the Twins.
Baker planned to give Harper the day off, but told him before Sunday's matinee he may use him for a pinch-hit situation if the game called for it. Baker, as he's shown a tendency to do, saw the future.
"I told him before the game I was going to save him toward the end of the game and only pinch-hit him because I told him about the time that I had put Barry Bonds on a day off on a double switch... he had a day off and we ended up going 18 innings, so I told [Harper] I didn’t want that to happen to him," Baker said.
Harper only got one at-bat, but he did a lot with it. Harper absolutely crushed a 3-2 pitch from Kevin Jepsen in the bottom of the ninth over the center field fence to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to extra innings.
Yeah, Baker predicted that, too.
"He came up to me in the beginning of the game and said if we have an opportunity to pinch hit you and you can hit a homer that would be great," Harper said.
It was a surreal moment before Harper's at-bat, at the beginning of the inning as Jepsen warmed up by firing in practice pitches to catcher John Ryan Murphy. Michael Taylor was due up, but there was no sight of him. Harper was waiting in the tunnel with his bat in his hand, only to emerge once Jepsen was done warming.
The crowd had a slow-build towards pandemonium as they noticed the reigning MVP exiting through the dugout steps ready to save the day.
"I told him that, before the game started," Baker said. "I told him: ‘Wait for a time so the fans can go crazy and you can be the hero, and then I’ll take you out.’ I’m not always right, but I was right today.”
Baseball can be a beautifully unpredictable sport, unless you're Baker, apparently. And Harper also sort of saw this coming.
“He believed that he was going to do it," Baker explained. "That’s what impressed me the most. Confidence is not his problem. You know what I mean? Anything he does, he doesn’t seem surprised, and I’m not surprised. But I’m extremely happy, and I’m sure he is, too.”
After Harper's homer, he returned to the dugout and gave Baker an MVP-sized hug. They then joined in with the rest of the team rooting on the Nats as they played through an exhausting 16-inning battle with Minnesota.
It was grueling, but they had fun with it. Harper and his teammates wore rally caps for innings on end before Chris Heisey's walkoff homer sealed the victory.
"It was fun. That's baseball, baseball at every single level," Harper said. "If you're in high school, college, little league; anything. I mean that's fun right there."
"And to be able to have the opportunity to play for Dusty, that desire and that mentality that he brings every single day to let us just have fun to let us enjoy this game, with all the rally caps and all the stuff were doing... He just lets us play and that's what the game is all about... that's where that comes from make baseball fun again, right there. And those are the things where you can go out on a daily basis enjoy the game, have fun and he lets us do that. There's no other guy I'd want to be playing for right now."