Profound moments can sometimes materialize organically at events like the All-Star Game. It is rare and difficult. The park is drenched in corporate logos. The jerseys are for sale. The conversations are staged for television.
And still, those moments occur, and one of them happened this evening. The space behind the batting cage became the intersection of the future and the past, of both the Nationals and baseball.
As Bryce Harper readied to step for batting practice, Frank Robinson approached him. They chatted for several moments, the 19-year-old phenom and the 76-year-old Hall of Famer, the Nationals’ foremost superstar and the first manager after baseball returned.
After a while, Robinson walked away and Harper stepped into the cage to spray line drives all over Kaufmann Stadium. The moment came near the end of the first day at the All-Star Game for Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals’ three all-stars.
Gonzalez and Strasburg hung out together in the outfield during the batting practice portion of the workout. Earlier, Gonzalez had promised to up the stakes for their fielding. “Me and Stras are going to be competing: who’s going to catch more pop flies in the outfield today?” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he missed Ian Desmond’s presence at the game, but all three players cherished coming to the showcase with two teammates.
“It’s a little different for guys coming in here if their team is in last place, being the only guy voted in,” Strasburg said. “Coming here with a group, it’s just something you can enjoy. You just know you’ve got a couple days here to soak it all in. Then you go back and get back into the race.”
Harper received perhaps the most media attention of any player at the All-Star Game. One guy with a camera asked Harper if he had heard any clown questions today. “That’s one right there,” Harper replied.
Harper also tempered expectations for his performance tomorrow. “I’m pretty terrible in all-star games,” Harper said. He said he never got a hit in the two most prominent amateur showcases, sponsored by Aflac and Under Armour. Last year, he went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts at the Futures Game.
Tomorrow, Harper will be teammates with Cole Hamels, the Phillies left-hander who plunked Harper on purpose in early May and then watched Harper steal home against him. Hamels voted for Harper to make the team and vice versa, and their heated interaction seems to be water under the bridge.
“From the first day I saw him play, he is a tremendous talent,” Hamels said. “He is fun to watch. To see him on this sort of stage is pretty cool. To be a teammate with him . . . who knows, I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to be his teammate. I’ll cherish the moment. It’s not like whatever people make it seem. I really do respect him and the way he plays.”