He may only be 20 years old, but reigning National League Rookie of the Year OF Bryce Harper may already be the locker room leader of the disappointing Washington Nationals. After being thumped by the Detroit Tigers in a two-game series (combined score 16-2), Harper appears to have had enough, and, according to Washington Post columnist Adam Kilgore, delivered a fiery speech in the locker room following Wednesday night’s loss to the Tigers 11-1:
Afterward, he stood at his locker and called for the Nationals to play harder and with more cohesion, aiming his fiery message not only at teammates but also at Manager Davey Johnson and the first-place Atlanta Braves.
“We got our [butts] kicked for two games,” Harper said. “That’s something you don’t want to have happen. But you got to have heart. That’s the biggest thing right now. You got to play with heart. You got to play as a family. Everybody’s got to want it, starting with the manager on down – everybody. Everybody wants to win this and keep going.
“We need to get going and play better, hit better, have better ABs in certain situations and pitch better also. It’s just something we need to do. We play the Braves nine games. This [expletive] ain’t over. I really don’t think it’s over. We just got to keep going, keep grinding and turn into the family that we were last year.”
Harper had left Wednesday’s game with a hip spasm, which might have given him the opportunity to sit back and simply observe his team fall apart. Or just made him more angry, whichever works.
And his words don’t appear to just be an “in the moment” reaction. When his teammates showed up for Friday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, they had T-shirts courtesy of Harper waiting for them (details courtesy of Kilgore via Twitter):
Bryce Harper made up new shirts for the Nats. They read: “To the last minute, to the last second, to the last man, we fight!”
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) August 2, 2013
Inspiriational for sure, but not quite original as it is borrowed from Dwayne Wade during the World Champion Miami Heat’s final two games won over the San Antonio Spurs.
According to an interview on MLB Network Radio (via FederalBaseball.com), Nationals manager Davey Johnson has noticed and appreciated the youngster’s passion and enthusiasm for the game:
“The thing about Bryce,” Johnson said, “… some of my key players are a little more passive — not as aggressive on the field as I’d like — and I think he gives them that energy, because, if anything, he goes overboard with energy. And so, he was missed. Not just what he does with the bat, but just his way and approach to [playing] the game of baseball.”
All that is great, but the bad news is that the Nationals have really nose-dived in the past couple of weeks, and the NL East leading Atlanta Braves have been red hot. That combination has the Braves with an 11.5 game lead over the 2nd place Nationals, who are 4 games simply below the .500 mark.
No doubt the Nationals are going to need to catch fire quickly, if they are to do so, this attitude and leadership from Harper may be the starting point. He needs to stay healthy down the stretch though, something he hasn’t been able to do.