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Suns' front office resisting urge to celebrate Harper's 'arrival' just yet

March 15, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • The Washington Nationals optioned Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft, to the Hagerstown Suns on Saturday.
Associated Press

HAGERSTOWN — With one quick swing, the Hagerstown Suns found themselves standing on third base.

On Saturday, the Suns were notified that Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals' and the 2010 baseball draft's overall first selection, was sent to the minor league complex and designated to play for Hagerstown.

“We are 75 percent there,” said Suns general manager Bill Farley. “I’ve been telling people that it’s exciting news. We are one step closer to seeing Bryce Harper in a Hagerstown Suns jersey.”

Although there has been a buzz in the Suns’ front office for much of the offseason, it became more intense on Monday. Now that they are three-quarters around, it’s time for the Suns to head for home for the April 5 exhibition game with Double-A Harrisburg at Municipal Stadium.

There were more calls for tickets and from people looking for information about the Nationals’ next big thing. As of Tuesday night, the Suns’ Facebook page had 2,644 likes.

“Today has been very busy,” Farley said. “We are getting a lot of response. Our ticketing has been really busy. Usually the early season is hard for attendance. We have a ton of games in May and with (Harper) here, it will help push us over the top.”

 The name “Bryce Harper” is good for business, but now it is even more hectic for the Single-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. It makes for an unforgettable debut for the team’s new ownership.

“We are excited for the fans. We are excited for Maryland. And we are excited for the Nationals,” said Bruce Quinn, who owns the team along with his sister Sheri Quinn and Hagerstown’s Tony Dahbura and Mitesh Kothari.

“We are excited to be able to attract a top prospect here. We did what we had to do to attract top prospects and it paid off.”

The new owners, with some help from the city of Hagerstown, have made renovations to Municipal Stadium to upgrade the facility.

Saturday’s announcement makes Harper’s arrival closer to reality, but the Suns will try to remain grounded.

The front office is still in “pinch me” mode. The staff is crossing its fingers against any change of course for Harper and resisting pulling out all the merchandising stops until the right fielder-to-be comes through the door.

“It’s all tricky,” Quinn said. “We are holding back on all of our printing on everything. When he gets on the field here, we will start printing everything to have it ready for the home opener.”

The Suns will have a 10-11 day window to get ready for April 15’s official home opener. Hagerstown opens the season with eight road games, starting on April 7 at Rome (Ga.) before heading to Lexington (Ky.).

“We want to make sure he is coming for sure,” Farley said. “The merchandising will be huge. Everything has been ordered. We are just waiting to see before putting it in motion.”

Farley said that high on the priority list are Suns jerseys and T-shirts bearing Harper’s name.

Security is another aspect to be addressed. The Suns and Nationals know that everyone will be out to meet and get close to Harper, but measures will be taken to ensure he fulfills the reason he is coming to Hagerstown — to improve as a player and get to Nationals Park as quickly as possible.

“The owners understand to have a top prospect come here we have to do things to make it as easy as possible for him to concentrate on what he is here to do,” Quinn said. “We have to provide the facilities and security to make his time here meaningful.”

Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in the anticipation. After all, having Bryce Harper playing in Hagerstown could lead to the franchise’s best attendance total in its 31-year history.

“For me, as a baseball fan, I’m enthralled to see someone of this talent level play in person,” Farley said. “But as a person in business, this will be a dream come true.”

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