Bryce Harper received a surprise when he walked into the Nationals’ clubhouse this morning. The name placard above Harper’s locker had been covered by a slip of paper, made to look exactly like the rest of the name tags, that read JOE NAMATH 12.
The prank had been pulled by one of Harper’s older teammates, a nod to Harper saying in a recent interview with MLB.com that he wanted to emulate Namath. No one would say who switched the names, but Harper took it with a smile. “I love it,” Harper said. “I’m not going to change it.”
The Namath placard provided a humorous side note to the Nationals’ first full-squad workout, but it probably indicated something about how his teammates view him – they at least like him enough to give him a hard time.
Harper has drawn criticism for plenty of comments he made this winter, but Manager Davey Johnson has no issue with his attitude. He reiterated, again, his desire for the Nationals to keep an open mind in regard to letting Harper make the opening day roster. Both Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo noted Harper appears more relaxed this spring than last.
“I talked to him when he was 15,” Johnson said. “He was cocky then. He’s cocky now. I would much rather have cocky than not.”
In his batting practice today, with a stiff breeze gusting out, Harper smashed several deep home runs to right field, scattering the fans who had gathered to collect souvenirs. Harper’s hitting might receive a stiffer test tomorrow: Based on how the Nationals aligned their hitter and pitcher groups, Harper may face Stephen Strasburg in the spring first live batting practice session. And if they do face each other, the Internet will explode.