Bryce Harper is already one of the most talented people known to man.
Baseball people can’t talk about him without using a napkin to wipe away the excess drool.
As the second consecutive first overall draft pick selected by the Washington Nationals, Harper is the next big piece in the puzzle that will make the Nationals winners. He is projected to join forces with pitcher Stephen Strasburg to do more in the nation’s capital than Batman and Robin accomplished in Gotham City.
That will come in time. Strasburg is nursing a surgically repaired elbow, while Harper is being sent to the minor leagues to hone his craft for that day. His first stop will be here with the Hagerstown Suns.
And he comes to our fair city with the noblest of intents.
“I’m really excited to go to a town that — I don’t know if they like baseball or not,” Harper said last Wednesday during a workout and fan event at Nationals Park. “Everybody’s telling me it’s not that great. But I’m going to make it great, make it a baseball town.”
Harper wasn’t even in town yet and he took one deep.
Just by looking at the statement, it seems Harper is reacting to what he has been told, not what he has experienced. Still, the initial reaction to the statement is predictable.
“How can he say that? He’s never been here.”
“If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to come here. We didn’t invite him.”
“Oh yeah ... Like Las Vegas is a great place to live.” (Strike that one).
As usual, the best offense is a great defense. Just deflect criticism by pointing the blame elsewhere.
Deflect if you will, Hagerstown, but as Jack Nicholson once said, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Hagerstown has hung its cap on being known as a baseball town for years. At best, we have been sitting on our laurels. The rep this town now owns is not far off the second half of Harper’s statement.
For the most part, players — both home and visiting — don’t like coming here.
In the minor league baseball universe, Hagerstown is considered a black hole.
Those youthful baseball jetsetters say they can’t find places to spend free time.
When they play, it is in an “antiquated” facility (don’t read new stadium here, just facts).
Usually, there are very few people in the stands, with the exception of a dwindling number of diehards. We are living in a “something for nothing” world. Fans do turn out in droves for the all-you-can-eat Feed Your Face and cheap beer Thirsty Thursday events.
Party on. What’s the score?
Those habits don’t scream “baseball town.”
Read most published reports or blogs out there. The wisdom of the Nationals is in question. Why would they to send a prize like Harper to Hagerstown? It sparked a debate about level of competition as well as the location.
But in reality, it is all about reputation.
You can tell it is spring in Hagerstown because people start using chaise lounge chairs to block off their parking spaces.
It is a town with equal percentages of people on unemployment as those suffering from diabetes.
Three of the stories that brought national attention to this town in recent years were:
· Apologizing to Willie Mays for how he was treated when he played here in the 1950s;
· A national documentary on Little League baseball that didn’t put this area in a great light;
· A claim this is where the second ugliest men in the country live.
Well guys, it’s time we shave our knuckles and get ready. Bryce Harper’s assignment to play here will give this town a chance to change many perceptions. This area is about to become a focal point for national sports media coverage. Many national television outlets and print journalists will be here to see baseball’s latest man-child play.
How glorious that will be is still in question. Measures have been taken to improve the stadium. Now it’s a matter of the fan base. The appearance of Harper alone will raise that, at least for the time being.
In his own brash way, Bryce Harper will make Hagerstown a baseball town again.
The rest is up to Hagerstown.
We’ll see. Harper promises great things, but he might have to cut his losses.
Leading the Nationals to the World Series might be easier than resurrecting Hagerstown.
Bob Parasiliti is a Herald-Mail sports writer. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at email@example.com