WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a city that has more than its share of recognizable faces, Washington Nationals teenager Bryce Harper is quickly becoming a rock star.
The outfielder, tabbed by many as a future Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star, had not even picked up a bat in town before being noticed on Monday by a group playing slow-pitch softball on the National Mall.
“I was just walking around a little bit, checking out all the stuff,” Harper, 19, told reporters before his home debut on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres.
“I hadn’t seen the Lincoln Memorial before so I wanted to go over there and check that out. I was just walking through and they asked me if I’d take a few hacks.
“I said, ‘Nah, I don’t know about that.’ They said, ‘C’mon.’ So I said no problem.”
Harper took a few swings, and, of course, what he thought would be an anonymous event turned up on television and all over the Internet.
But the fact that Harper was recognized before ever playing a game in Washington speaks volumes on how excited the city is to see the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft.
Harper was called up from Class AAA Syracuse on Saturday when All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list. Though he does not know how long he will be in the majors during this stint, the Nevada-born Harper plans to make the most of it.
“I’m going to come out here and play as hard as I can every single night,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m hurt or if I don’t feel good or not.
“I’m going to come out here and give as much as I can to this team, this organization, this city. I want to win every single night and we have a club that can win.
“We can win a World Series. That’s the goal here.”
Some people believe Harper is brash. Others call him too cocky for someone yet to realize his potential. But no one says he cannot play.
The left-hand hitting Harper gave a glimpse of the future during his big-league debut over the weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers, going two-for-six with a slam-against-the-wall catch to rob Juan Uribe of an extra-base hit.
“He’s a gamer,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He gives 100 percent. I don’t care if it’s (his) opener or the last game of spring, he’s going full blast.
“I like everything about him. He’s aggressive, an old-school player.”
The Nationals’ pitching has been stellar this season but their run-scoring ranks 27th of 30 major league teams. Johnson would probably have liked to give Harper more time at Syracuse but could not resist having his bat in the line-up.
Despite their batting woes, the Nationals are leading the National League East division with a 14-8 record.
Harper often gets booed on the road, perhaps because of his cheeky demeanor or maybe because he has been labeled as a future franchise player for most of his life.
It does not matter, he said.
“I try to play the game as hard as I can,” he said. “Once I’m between those lines, nothing else matters to me. When I leave those lines and I walk out of the stadium, I can be the nicest person in the world.
“I play the game hard and I try to play it right every single day. I have that fire and that passion to play the game. When you see my attitude, it’s when a team messes with my team.
“I’m going to always have my team’s back. I’m not worried about what other people think as long as my team knows I have respect for this game and for everyone in the clubhouse.”
Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Frank Pingue