The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bryce Harper should have a legacy in Washington. Why can’t I find it?

The final out of the final playoff game in Bryce Harper's Washington tenure. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

This is the second in a series of reflections by Nats fans about Bryce Harper’s departure. Maybe there will be more, or maybe not. Previously: Dear Bryce Harper: Thanks. (Love, a Nats fan.)

We all remember that night, don’t we? Tracking him through the minors, plotting the schedule, then the grand debut? Didn’t we revel in the young superstar pulling on our jersey for the first time, stepping onto our field for the anthem, then validating every ounce of his hype? There was even a name for that night, wasn’t there?

No, that was somebody else.

How about the Sunday walk-offs — the holiday afternoon, then the opening night, both on mediocre-to-bad Nats teams, but him streaking home, thrilled to deliver a little joy and a little hope?

That was some other guy, too.

Maybe the postseason heroism — that 13-pitch at-bat staving off elimination in the team’s first-ever playoff series, the home run written into local legend no matter what happened the next game?

Strange, the box score says he went 0 for 3 that night.

Well, at least we have his pride in being a part of the local sports community, right? I guess we did have that. Sorta.

Even making the argument feels ungrateful in a way. How do we say a player who wore D.C.’s uniform in every imaginable venue (if not always D.C.’s hat) never represented us? We had a stake in every “best player in the game” argument for almost a decade because of him, didn’t we? Didn’t he become a full-fledged star here, with our team, in our city? Didn’t we drop everything when he came to bat — because four times a night, no one else in baseball was more likely to deliver a moment of individual brilliance, just for us?

Bryce Harper, on the first day of the rest of his life, didn’t seem ready to leave D.C. behind

It’s all true. But for all that should have drawn us closer to Bryce Harper, something was always missing. Those brilliant moments? Somehow they never became the franchise-defining events that parents tell their kids about, the stories that bind generations to a team. Stephen Strasburg has those, and Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth and Max Scherzer. Not Harper. And sure, much of that is circumstance that an individual player in a team sport can’t control — but they still didn’t rate.

So we needed something else. And yet the stories about a young player saying he loved D.C. carried an undertone of loneliness that became, if not iconoclasm, at least a gap between mid-career Harper and local fans. The national Bryce Harper was a brand selling us shoes and cellphone service and video games. Local Bryce Harper? He was … well, he was a national brand selling us shoes and cellphone service and video games. No goofy local commercials for him; no sticking around for one bit more of local promotion than necessary. In the stands, he was Cowboys, Lakers and Duke all the way, even before the infamous Stanley Cup Finals appearance, which included a death stare anyone who’d watched a Nationals playoff clincher could recognize.

The most humanity we saw from late-Nats-career Harper might have been in him discovering a love for his first-ever home team — a love setting him further apart from local fans, even as the Capitals’ championship bender obliterated any notions of social distance between them and us.

There was the Home Run Derby midway through that last year. And sure, that was fun — District flag bandanna and all. But by then, he’d pulled so far back, and the fans so far from him, that the mutual distance had to be part of the story. Maybe it could have built a better foundation had that moment happened in 2015. We’ll never know. Just another circumstance, I guess.

And so Harper leaves — and there’s still a gap, this time between us and the full righteous fury of a jilted fan base. We rooted for laundry; he wore laundry. That it was the same laundry never seemed to matter much to him before. So why would it even register that we don’t like the laundry he wears now? We can still buy the shoes, sign the cellphone contracts, play the video games, follow on Instagram, no? Our eyeballs still count toward the brand, don’t they?

And I guess that’s fine. But for something to actually care about? For that, we’ll always have Strasmas.

Josh Crockett is a software developer in Charlottesville and a former Fairfax County resident who still misses his 20-game package at RFK.

Read more MLB coverage:

So long, Bryce: 20 memorable moments from Harper’s career

Jayson Werth knows Philadelphia, and he knows Bryce Harper. He thinks they’re a match.

Svrluga: The Nationals don’t do business the way most MLB teams do. Just ask Bryce Harper.

Boswell: Anthony Rendon has leverage Bryce Harper never had with the Nationals