“This is a great time of year. Until the first pitch [on opening day], they’re all still invincible,” said General Manager Mike Rizzo.
Actually, the only Nat who wasn’t talking with typical spring training bravado was Bryce Harper, 19, whose recent tweet, comparing his future social life in D.C. to Joe Namath’s in New York, did not amuse the Nats.
“Come see me in my office,” Rizzo said to Harper in the clubhouse, then added with an edge, “Before you talk to the media.” Harper didn’t notice and went to Rizzo’s office later with a half-eaten sandwich in hand.
Later, a restrained Harper mixed his usual enthusiasm with a different tone. A visit to the principal’s office? Probably. Someday we’ll be certain.
Harper plans “to try to make it hard” on the Nats to send him down, “but if I have to go to the minors, which I don’t want to talk about, that happens, too. . . . There are so many things I have to improve. . . . Last season was a grind, every day. I need to hit the weight room more during the season to keep my strength [up], which I didn’t understand.”
Defense needs work, too, “not trying to amp up [his extremely strong arm] and throw it 10 rows up in the seats” after overthrowing the cutoff man.
Of his post-Namath-tweet beat-down, he said, “I like to interact with my fans [to let them know] who I am and what I am. That’s just how I am. . . . I’m going to get blown up either way. . . . I’m never going to back off.”
But at least he backpedaled, saying that when it came to social media, “I need to learn from my mistakes” and “I need to grow up in that respect, I guess.”
Johnson tried to open the door for Harper, but he may have shut it, halfway, on his own foot. If you want to know Harper’s chances of being a National this season, then count his public remarks that draw attention to himself as if he were a star brand, and think of each of those episodes as a strikeout.
This was a day for jokes, gibes and flagrant optimism, with a small dose of Harper realism, to calm things down, around the edges.
“The potential I see on this ballclub is pretty damn high. This team has more potential than those Mets — it’s more athletic,” said Johnson of his ’84-’90 teams. “But that Mets team played up to its full ability.”
Potential, with its pressures and pitfalls, is weeks away. For now, the breeze here is soft and warm, getting kidnapped is still fair game and all the rattlesnakes are dead ones.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell