On Tuesday afternoon, Bryce Harper will make his return to Nationals Park for the first time is a visiting ballplayer. After spending seven seasons with a Curly W on his chest and No. 34 on his back, the six-time All-Star will be wearing the road grays with No. 3 on his back when he takes the field for the first time as a Philadelphia Phillie in Washington, D.C..
Harper is anticipating a mixed reaction -- some cheers and some boos -- when he returns to the city he called home from 2012-2018. Tuesday will be the first of 10 times the Phillies play in Washington during the 2019 campaign, as the two divisional foes are set to meet 19 times during the regular season.
The #Phillies’ Bryce Harper on the fan reaction he expects Tuesday night in Washington against the #Nationals: pic.twitter.com/SJLWmRXAy4— Tom Moore (@TomMoorePhilly) April 1, 2019
"I'm sure there will be some cheers, some boos as well," Harper told the Philadelphia media after Sunday's Phillies' victory over the Atlanta Braves. "It's part of the game, it's part of sports."
While Harper may be wearing enemy colors for the next decade-plus, as he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with no opt-outs, he remained very nostalgic about his time in the Nation's Capital.
"I'll always rememeber all the screaming, the yelling, the exciting times we had the last seven years," Harper said of the Nationals faithful. "Like I said before, I wish them nothing but the best, all the players in the clubhouse. It's a great fanbase, great city. I'm excited to go back and excited to compete."
In his return, Harper will be facing one of the best pitchers in baseball, as Max Scherzer is set to make his second start of the season. The three-time Cy Young winner had a very impressive debut to the 2019 season, facing off against reigning Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom on Thursday. But deGrom undueled Scherzer, as the Nats fell 2-0 to the New York Mets on Opening Day.
Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who starts Tuesday against the Phillies in Bryce Harper’s return to DC: “It’s gonna be fun.” pic.twitter.com/aF3OkvAc3C— Eddie Matz (@eddie_matz) March 31, 2019
“It's going to be fun,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “Look, NL East is loaded. Every single game's going to matter and this one is just as important. That's what makes this fun. They have a great team over there. And it's going to take everything out of our play to try to beat them. Nothing's new.”
“He's signed here forever, basically. Or at least forever in my career," Scherzer said. "We're going to be facing each other a lot. This is just the first. Whatever happens on Tuesday, it's going to be the course of a career of facing him. This is just round one.”
Nationals third basemen Anthony Rendon, who was teammates with Harper from 2013-2018, said while the Nationals will miss Harper, they have plenty of players that are more than capable of filling the void. One player the Nationals will be counting on to help fill Harper's shoes is outfielder Juan Soto, who had a tremendous rookie season a year ago.
"We’ve got that 19-year-old guy. Obviously, he’s going to be our power bat from the left side -- [Matt] Adams, too," Rendon said. "Not saying we’re not going to miss Harp. He’s once-in-a-lifetime type player out here, but it’s a business, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. So, wish him all the best.”
Reliever Matt Grace, who has been with the club since 2015, downplayed Harper's return, telling WTOP his approach when facing Harper is like facing any other player.
"Treat it just like any other situation: Go after him," Grace said about facing his former teammate. "I'm sure he'll do the same."
Now that Harper is in enemy colors, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo only has one goal when facing Harper's new team: to win.
"I'm gonna want to beat his a-- and he's gonna want to do the same to me," Rizzo told NBC Sports Washington during Spring Training. "I can't wait to tackle the NL East. It's no joke, man."
Washington's manager Dave Martinez built a solid relationship with Harper during their only season together in 2018. Once it became apparent during Spring Training that Harper would be moving on elsewhere, Martinez had no choice but to focus on his current roster, not on someone who would no longer be in the building.
“He’s an unbelievable player, and I built this really good relationship with Bryce, and I wish him all the best," Martinez said on Harper. "I really do. Regardless of what happens, I’ll always wish him the best.”
It's been a long offseason, and both sides are ready to move on, as they both should be competing for the division crown. The first of many matchups between the two squads begins on Tuesday, with first pitch at 7:05 p.m.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- First of Many: Harper returns to D.C. Tuesday for the first time as a Phillie
- A-Rod: A strange shot at D.C., Harper's departure
- Not Surprising: Harper turned down offer from Nationals in January
- Bad Breakup: Nats fans deface Harper jerseys on Opening Day