Nationals

Timbers chip in during week off

Timbers chip in during week off

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Sal Zizzo shrugged when he was chided about his lack of gardening skills. The Portland Timbers' midfielder is from sunny San Diego, after all.

``Too much soccer, maybe?'' Zizzo offered as an excuse.

But on Saturday he joined about 30 others in a community garden in Beaverton, where he got his hands dirty transplanting cabbage. The effort was part of the Timbers' Stand Together Week, an all-out volunteering effort by the team, front office staff, sponsors, former players and fans.

Despite a disappointing second season in Major League Soccer, the wildly popular Timbers are not letting a commitment to the community slide. Because the MLS had a break in play for World Cup qualifying, the Timbers decided it would be a good time to help out more than 30 nonprofit organizations

``We have the privilege of being a sports team in a city that really appreciates us,'' Timbers Chief Executive Officer Mike Golub said. ``It's just fundamentally the right thing to do to use the power of sports to give back to the community that makes it possible for us to exist.''

With the help of Hands On Greater Portland, which matches volunteers with causes across the region, the Timbers estimate that they have brought as many 900 people to help out on projects focusing mostly on youth and the environment. The ``volunteer-a-palooza,'' as Golub puts it, wraps up Sunday.

Zizzo worked at Kennedy Gardens, which has been lent to the community for 13 yards by nearby St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Plots in the garden were filled with the last of the summer's vegetables and flowers.

``In Portland, the Timbers are somewhat of a big deal compared to other MLS cities to it's kind of cool to give back and show that we appreciate the fans.'' Zizzo said.

Patricia Davidson has volunteered at Kennedy Gardens for the past three years, tending to the plots and harvesting vegetables for Tualatin Valley Gleaners, a supplemental charity food program that helps families in need as well as the homebound.

``There's a huge need,'' Davidson said as she picked tomatoes.

The Timbers are 7-16-9 this season, in second-to-last last place in the league's Western Conference with two games left.

The team fired head coach John Spencer in July and replaced him for the rest of the season with general manager Gavin Wilkinson. Portland has already hired Caleb Porter, who has had success at the University of Akron for seven seasons, to be the team's new head coach starting in 2013.

The Timbers return to the pitch next Sunday when they visit the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the final game of the hotly contested Cascadia Cup rivalry between Portland, Vancouver and Seattle.

The original Cascadia Cup was introduced in 2004 when the Timbers, Whitecaps and Sounders were part of the United Soccer Leagues' first division. Fans pooled their money to buy a 2-foot tall trophy, which went to the team that finishes with the best record in head-to-head matches among the trio, based on a points system.

Seattle now has nine points to lead the cup race, thanks goal differential, but Portland could claim the cup with a win at Vancouver. A draw or a Whitecaps victory would keep the regional trophy in Seattle.

Claiming the Cascadia Cup would help take the sting out of the season. But for the moment, the Timbers are focused on being good ``Cascadians.''

``Frankly, I'd hold up our community relations platform to any team in sports, anywhere,'' Golub said. ``We're really, really proud of what we've done in the community, and when I say we, I mean the organization and also our fans.''

Quick Links

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

harper.jpg
USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

Quick Links

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

usatsi_10961237.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

MORE ALL-STAR NEWS

 

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!