MIL­LEN­NIAL MESSIAH

Harper may be sav­ior Yan­kees need when he hits free agency

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

Wel­come home, Bryce Harper. You had a busy road trip for a guy hit­ting .154 for the last week. By the way, you’ll have to wait a while be­fore your new fa­vorite team, the Chicago Cubs, come to town. They’ll be in at the end of the month.

The last we saw Harper, he was telling youth base­ball play­ers that their par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phies were worth­less and the only thing that mat­tered was be­ing num­ber one.

A few days later, he was charg­ing the mound in San Fran­cisco to fight San Fran­cisco Gi­ants re­liever Hunter Strick­land, who clearly hit Harper with a pur­pose pitch over a grudge he was car­ry­ing from the 2014 Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

By the way, the word is that Strick­land had told Buster Posey and his Gi­ants team­mates that the pitch was com­ing and not to stop Harper when he charged the mound. Strick­land wanted a piece of Harper, who seems to re­ally get un­der the skin of re­lief pitch­ers in par­tic­u­lar – even ones on his own team.

Soon, ev­ery piece of Harper will be up for bid.

The road trip ended with vet­eran base­ball re­porter Peter Gam­mons say­ing that the Cubs — the 2016 World Se­ries cham­pi­ons — were now Harper’s team of choice when he be­comes a free agent af­ter the 2018 sea­son.

“You know, I have peo­ple tell me that Bryce Harper re­ally would pre­fer to play for the Cubs,” Gam­mons told 670 The Score ra­dio in Chicago last week.

Now, that could have evolved through all sorts of dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances — pos­si­bly Harper and Cubs star Kris Bryant, long-time friends, talk­ing about how cool it would be for them to play to­gether on the same team. Maybe it was some­thing that they talked about years ago when they were both youth base­ball stars back in Ne­vada. Or maybe it’s re­ally what

Harper wants.

Both are rep­re­sented by Scott Bo­ras, who in Harper likely has the first $400 mil­lion — wait, maybe $500 mil­lion — player in base­ball wait­ing to hit the mar­ket af­ter the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als con­trac­tual con­trol of the superstar ends fol­low­ing the 2018 sea­son.

Gam­mons has since said his com­ments were mis­con­strued, and that if he had to guess, he would pick the New York Yan­kees as Harper’s next team.

Boy, this Harper con­tract story may wind up be­ing more fun than the Kirk Cousins con­tract chron­i­cles. We may not have cham­pi­onships in this town, but no one tops us when it comes to player con­tract con­tro­ver­sies.

The Yan­kees re­main a good guess. Plus, no one seems to be guess­ing that Harper stays here in Wash­ing­ton.

From the book, “The Last Nat­u­ral,” about Harper’s de­ci­sion to leave high school two years early, take his GED exam and, at the age of 16, play for the Col­lege of South­ern Ne­vada, a ju­nior col­lege with a top base­ball pro­gram:

“Bryce Harper started al­most ev­ery day be­fore sun­rise by glanc­ing at the vin­tage Mickey Man­tle poster on his bed­room wall be­fore charg­ing down­stairs. It’s a photo of the Mick sur­rounded by all of his base­ball cards with his sig­na­ture. Harper’s grand­fa­ther, Jim Brooks, had paid a buddy $800 for it and gave it to Bryce.

“His first few years in the game, Harper wore num­ber seven as a trib­ute to man­tle. When he was 10 some­one else on his Desert Storm club team had that num­ber and wouldn’t yield it. Harper set­tled on num­ber 34. Add the two fig­ures and it still hon­ored Man­tle. “Pin­stripes are in his blood” Brooks said.

The pin­stripes have been bleed­ing money of late at Yan­kee Sta­dium. They may need Harper.

Tick­ets and suite rev­enues at the ball­park have fallen by $166 mil­lion — a 42 per­cent loss — since the end of 2009, the year the new Yan­kee Sta­dium opened and the sea­son when the last World Se­ries cham­pi­onship for the fran­chise, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. And even with the first-place Aaron Judge Yan­kees this year, at­ten­dance is down from last sea­son, when New York was a fourth-place team, by nearly 1,000 fans per game .

Re­port­edly, the Yan­kees are court­ing mil­len­ni­als to stop the bleed­ing.

Just con­sider Bryce Harper the Mil­len­nial Messiah.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als out­fielder Bryce Harper may get un­der the skin of re­lief pitch­ers, but he will be a hot com­mod­ity when he be­comes a free agent af­ter the 2018 sea­son.

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