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Plenty of storylines from Nationals WinterFest 2015 Day 1

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Plenty of storylines from Nationals WinterFest 2015 Day 1

BY CHASE HUGHES AND J.J. REGAN

Here are the updates from Day 1 of Nationals WinterFest 2015...

2:55 p.m. — Hughes: Jayson Werth was the final player of the day to meet with the media and he touched on a wide range of topics. He said he was glad to see Bryce Harper win the MVP award, how he doesn't think the Harper and Papelbon situation will persist, even if Papelbon remains on the roster. He also told a great story about Barry Bonds when asked about the former superstar's return to baseball. Werth said he was on the Dodgers when they went to San Francisco in 2005 for a four-game series. Manager Jim Tracy gave the Dodgers specific instructions to not throw Bonds a strike the entire series. So, through the first two games he never saw a strike and drew several walks. He didn't play the third day, but in the fourth game he took the only strike he saw all series and splashed it into McCovey's Cove in right field. Werth said it was one of the most impressive things he has seen in baseball.

2:07 p.m. — Regan: Anthony Rendon struggled to get into a rhythm last season due to injuries and said like he felt he was playing catchup all year. He is excited about the move to third base, the position in which he feels most comfortable. He was also amazed by Dusty Baker's experience and history throughout the league, saying the new manager had a story for everyone and everything. Rendon is also very distraught at the state of his beloved Houston Rockets.

2:01 p.m. — Regan: The most important update from Danny Espinosa is that he currently has a beard again and intends to grow it out until picture day. With Ian Desmond's expected departure from the team in free agency, that leaves an opening at shortstop, an opening that Espinosa clearly hopes to fill. Espinosa cycled positions last year as a utility infielder, and while he stressed he will do anything to get more at bats, he also made clear that he sees himself as a shortstop and believes he can be the Nationals starter at that position this season. He also said he is 100 percent healthy with no lingering injury issues this offseason.

1:11 p.m. — Hughes: We have updates now from Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Taylor as they keep bringing out players for rapid-fire interview sessions. Scherzer said he was happy for Jordan Zimmermann to get a deal with his former team, the Detroit Tigers. He is also very excited to play for Dusty Baker, whom he has heard great things about from current and former players. Scherzer also told us the backstory of his ESPN commercial, saying he was thrilled to work with Ken Jeong from The Hangover movies. Zimmerman said he is fully healthy and his golf swing looks better than ever. He dealt with several injuries last season, most notably plantar fasciitis. Zimmerman also commented on the Bryce Harper/Jonathan Papelbon situation, saying "it would have been weird" if nothing happened between teammates given their losing season. He said he did not condone the actions, but understands the frustration for both players. Taylor did not speak for long as he is known to do. But he did say he has met Baker and looks forward to playing for him.

12:34 p.m. — Regan: If there was one thing Stephen Strasburg wanted the media to take away from today, it's that he's not thinking about his pending free agency. All he would say was that he was focused on the now. When referencing his back surgery in which he had a non-cancerous growth removed, Strasburg said he would not use it as an excuse for this poor 2015 season. He also said he was happy for Jordan Zimmermann getting his new deal with Detroit and that he was excited for Giolito to join the team for spring training.

11:41 a.m. — Regan: According to Mike Rizzo, the Nationals will no longer pursue closer Aroldis Chapman following the domestic violence allegations he is now facing. Rizzo had nothing but good things to say about Jason Heyward who the team pursued until yesterday when it was learned he would be signing with the Chicago Cubs. He also stated that prized pitching prospect Lucas Giolito will be invited to spring training this year, his first with the major league club. Rizzo informed the media that the team has reached a deal with reliever Yusmeiro Petit, pending a physical. As for why Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen are not at WinterFest, well, according to Rizzo they both had prior commitments which prevented them from attending.

11:18 a.m. — Regan: Dusty Baker wins the fashion award for the day as he wore a shirt with tiny bicycles on it. Great look. Baker said he spoke with Matt Williams after he took the job to get a feel for the team and certain players. He says he stressed to Williams that he needed to get back onto the field and was pleased he got a job as the third base coach for Arizona. Baker is still meeting a lot of the players, but talked about how impressed he was by how in shape they all were. He drew a few laughs by saying he will sometimes grab players randomly by the arms or pat them on the stomachs just to check.

11:13 a.m. — Regan: Mike Maddux introduced himself to each member of the media and began talking about how excited he was to work with the Nationals rotation. He is a very big fan of Tanner Roark and said a spot in the rotation was "his job to lose." Maddux said he has not met with every member of the staff yet, just emailed out to introduce himself and tell them what he expected from the offseason. He also talked about how he liked seeing pitcher with some emotion on the mound like Mike Scherzer, though he did clarify that you can pitch with emotion so long as you don't pitch emotionally.

10:41 a.m. — Hughes: We just met new Nationals bench coach Chris Speier, who said he is thrilled to be back in the dugout with longtime friend Dusty Baker. He said he is excited to coach Bryce Harper and that the NL MVP reminds him of Willie Mays, whom he got to play with as a rookie in San Francisco. Speier also noted how he was first drafted by the Washington Senators, but did not sign. So he now feels like he is coming full circle as he looks to help Baker win his first World Series as a manager.

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

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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.

MORE ALL-STAR NEWS:

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

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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.

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