If Bryce Harper had some cozying up to do with D.C. sports fans after repeatedly proclaiming his allegiance to non-Washington teams, Monday night was a pretty big step in the right direction. For me, anyhow.

See, Monday night, there was a pretty killer softball game raging in front of the Washington Monument, involving the World Wildlife Fund Fighting Pandas and the Alliance to Save Energy Killer Watts. This is the sort of non-profit softball engagement on the Mall that involves no umpires and no balls and strikes. Every one is allowed to bat, and the beverages are often a bit more potent than Ga­tor­ade.

Having once played in a similar non-profit circuit in D.C., I can assure you that most of the games don’t involve Major League ballplayers. Like, not even reserves.

Anyhow, the Killer Watts were up big, when a few young men wandered past, one holding a video camera, and one with what appeared to be a muskrat on top of his head.

“Uh, yeah, we need this guy to help us out,” some one on the Fighting Pandas said, recognizing Harper, who was called up by the Nats last week and will be making his first home appearance with the team tonight at Nats Park. But it didn’t happen. Harper, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, waited until the Killer Watts were up before making his move.

“You guys want a pinch hitter?” he asked. He was promptly invited to the plate to take a couple cuts.

“Put the shift on!” yelled center fielder Nick Conger, as the Fighting Pandas’ sometimes unreliable outfielders shifted to right field, since Harper was batting lefty and all.

“We didn’t ask him to play; he just wanted to jump in,” Conger, 31, told me Tuesday morning. “He couldn’t help himself.”

Two of the four arcing, underhand pitches thrown to Harper by Steven Marcus were off-target. So was Harper’s first cut, which was an awkward whiff.

“That caught me off guard when he whiffed, that really did,” said Marcus, a 34-year old gift planning officer. I asked his pitching strategy against Harper.

“I don’t think it changed much from my strategy of pitching to the other people in the league,” Marcus said. “I mean, it’s slow-pitch softball. I was tossing him something he could hit.”

Eventually Harper skied a fly ball up the right-field line, walked around a bit, said some goodbyes and moved on.

“It was just great to see him out at the Mall, and to be able to toss a couple pitches into him was certainly a personal highlight of my softball career,” Marcus added. “It’s been the talk of the office so far this morning.”

I guess it would be, yeah. The Killer Watts won, by the way. It’s not clear whether the victory will be forfeited due to the use of an illegal player. And if this doesn’t make you like Bryce Harper a little bit more than you did last week, well, you’re a lot stronger-willed than I am.

(First blogged by Nats Enquirer)