By Adam Kilgore
Monday, February 21, 2011; 5:07 PM
Bryce Harper arrived at Nationals spring training today, and with him came the crowd. He walked to Field 4, a swarm of people inching toward him, watching. Harper warmed up, stretching with the rest of the Nationals' early-arriving position players and playing toss with Roger Bernadina. Then he trotted to Field 2 for batting practice.
He shagged for a while in right, standing next to Tony Tarasco, the minor league coach who Harper credits for his transition to the outfield during last fall's instructional league. After a while, a coach by the batting cage hollered, "Group 2!" The dozen people sitting on aluminum bleachers behind the backstop sat up straight, and about a dozen more lined the fence.
Harper hit third in a group with first baseman Chris Marrero and utility infielder Brian Bixler. He took roughly 40 swings and clocked four homers, all to right field - no oppo boppos. Nationals front office special assistant Davey Johnson sat in a golf cart nearby and watch. As Harper swung, countless cell phones snapped pictures.
When batting practice stopped, Harper moved to Field 1 and sat in shallow center field with a group of Nationals veteran outfielders, listening to a coach as infielders took ground balls. He jogged toward the dugout, ahead of the others, and shook hands with Steven Souza, a minor league infielder who had come to practice early. Souza and Harper became friends during the instructional league.
"He's a great kid," Souza said. "i think he'll be just fine."
When his short workout ended, the real challenge began. Trying to walk off the field, a small mob of 50 fans surrounded him, thrusting pens, paper and magazine covers in his face. He signed for several minutes, at which point security and a Nationals public relations official led him away.
The Nationals, after Stephen Strasburg's time in spring last year, are accustomed to the scene. But some, including Manager Jim Riggleman, are concerned.
"He couldn't have got out of there," Riggleman said. "He needs to be able to sign a few and get back in here, do the things he's got to do in the weight room, have something to eat. He'd have been out there for an hour. It can't be like that.
"You've got to be able to have a little freedom to keep moving. He was just smothered, you know? It kind of almost needs to be an atmosphere - and same thing with Strasburg - where it's a little more controlled. You can't just have a mass of people sticking pens at him."
Afterward, Riggleman indicated Harper would spend between seven and 10 games with the Nationals' major league camp before joining the minor-league side. Riggleman doubted Harper would start, saying he wanted to watch the veterans competing for spots in the outfield.
"We've got a lot of outfielders that we're committed to that we've got to give a long look to and make some tough decisions on," Riggleman said. "So that takes the priority. Bryce, he's going to get plenty of at-bats in minor league camp."