Bryce Harper couldn’t say enough good things about Nationals Manager Dave Martinez on Monday, first in heartfelt remarks during a field dedication ceremony in Herndon that some interpreted as a sign Harper will remain a National after the 2018 season, and again after he won the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park in dramatic fashion.
“He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever played for,” Harper said of Martinez, via NBC Sports Washington, at the dedication of the Bryce Harper All-Star Complex at Fred Crabtree Park. “His door is open every single day. He’s got a heart that — I haven’t really played for a manager like this guy. I look forward to hopefully playing with him for the next 10, 12 years. He’s one of the best, so hopefully, we’ll see what happens.”
For those trying to get a gauge on the intentions of a former MVP who made it clear during spring training that he wouldn’t discuss his pending free agency this season, that line about “hopefully playing with” Martinez for the next decade likely raised some eyebrows. Alas, my colleague Chelsea Janes reports that no one close to Harper or Nationals ownership thinks you should read much into it.
Monday wasn’t the first time that Martinez, who was in attendance for the field dedication ceremony, heard Harper say he’d like to stick around D.C.
“Here’s a kid that was in the league at 19, he’s going to be a free agent, never talks about being a free agent, wants to play in Washington,” Martinez told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Tuesday, when asked why some fans have soured on Harper over the past few months. “He’s told me that numerous times, so he doesn’t even think about that. All he thinks about is winning a championship here, now. And he wants people to be in. That’s what he wants.”
During his 45-minute session with reporters ahead of Monday’s Home Run Derby, Harper discussed his uncertain future in more neutral terms.
“I think that everybody knew that, at the beginning of the year, this could be possibly my last year in D.C.,” Harper said. “Everybody knows that. There’s no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that that’s a possibility. But I’m not really focused on that. I’m focused on what I can do to help the team win on a daily basis. I look forward to doing that.”
If this is Harper’s final season in D.C., he left Nationals fans with at least one more incredible moment to remember him by. Harper called his Home Run Derby title, during which his dad, Ron, served as his pitcher, one of the greatest moments of his career. Afterward, he praised Nationals fans for the energy they brought to the exhibition. Martinez told Paulsen and Rouhier that Harper fed off the crowd and couldn’t stop talking about how loud the stadium was when the two were chatting in the batting cage between rounds.
“This crowd was unbelievable tonight,” Harper told MLB Network’s Robert Flores. “If we can play every game with those guys in the stadium like that, and that music blaring, it would be unbelievable. They’re unbelievable every single night, but tonight that was super special, super surreal. We got some of the best damn fans in baseball, and I’m so excited to be part of this.”
At the post-derby news conference Monday night, Harper once again made a point of mentioning Martinez, who shared an embrace with Harper and lifted him up after his final-round triumph over the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber.
“I’ve got one of the best managers in all of baseball,” Harper said. “I’m very happy to have him at our helm. He’s a guy I’d run through a fricking brick wall for, and I was trying to do that for him tonight.”
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