Harper a hit in Washington, on Mall and at stadium
By DAVID GINSBURG
WASHINGTON (AP) One day before making his much-anticipated home debut, rookie Bryce Harper took his first swings in Washington on the National Mall.
The 19-year-old Harper was sightseeing in the nation's capital during a day off Monday when a few guys playing softball recognized the Washington Nationals rookie and asked him to take a couple of cuts.
"I hadn't seen the Lincoln Memorial before so I wanted to go over there and check that out," Harper said. "I was just walking through and they asked me if I'd take a few hacks."
After politely declining, Harper ultimately accepted the invitation and hit a few drives before chatting with curious onlookers.
"I was trying to interact with the community, the fans a little bit. I like doing that kind of stuff," Harper said Tuesday, hours before playing his first game at Nationals Park.
The kid when 0 for 3 against Arizona on Tuesday night before a crowd of 22,675, but he thrilled the fans with a few solid plays in left field, including a 300-foot, no-bounce throw to the plate that nearly doubled up a runner trying to score on a fly ball.
Harper, the top pick in the 2010 draft, made his big league debut in Los Angeles against the Dodgers last weekend and went 2 for 6 in two games. He was called up to replace injured slugger Ryan Zimmerman, who could return from shoulder inflammation as soon as Sunday.
That doesn't mean Harper will be immediately heading back to Triple-A Syracuse.
"We'll just see how his development goes," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "If I'm satisfied with how he's developing and how he's performing, how he's interacting, if he's ready mentally, physically and emotionally, then he'll stay."
Nothing Harper has done would indicate the teenager is overwhelmed by his environment - or major league pitching.
"I like everything about him," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's aggressive, an old-school player. He's handled himself like a professional athlete. Really, ever since I've seen him he's had quality at-bats."
Harper was surrounded by cameras, tape recorders and a bevy of microphones on Tuesday afternoon. If he was bothered by the attention or nervous about playing his first big league game before the home fans, it was not apparent.
He appeared confident, poised and humble all at the same time.
"It's the same game I've been playing my whole life. I'm just trying to take it like that," he said. "Take one day at a time, one at-bat at a time. Not try to get too excited. Just trying to stay as calm as I can be."
Harper hopes to stick around long enough to see a little more of the nation's capital. He got plenty accomplished during his first foray Monday, including an impromptu pinch-hitting appearance in a softball game, but a return trip to downtown D.C. seems inevitable.
Asked his impression of the Mall, Harper replied: "I loved it; I thought it was awesome. Everything in the city is really cool. Historic facts behind the city. Seeing the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson, and all that kind of stuff. The Monument. I don't think you could play in a better city."
He's already getting noticed in Washington. There were thousands of tourists on the Mall on Monday, yet this particular group of softball players recognized Harper before he'd even played a single game in his home park.
"They see the rat tail and the tattoos," he said, "so I think they can notice that."
Updated May 1, 2012