Bryce Harper may have stepped onto Nationals Park for the last time as a member of the home team.
On Wednesday, Washington defeated Miami 9-3 in their final home game of the year, in a rain-shortened 7 inning game.
Harper’s most recent contract extension, signed in May of 2017, expires at the end of the season, and it’s still unclear whether or not he and the Nationals can come to an agreement. It’s been hotly discussed since the start of Spring Training in February, when he made headlines by declaring at a press conference, “If you guys do talk anything about that [anything after 2018], I’ll be walking right out the door.”
Analysts across the country have made the case for Harper to come to their city, but the team being thrown around the most is the New York Yankees, Bryce’s favorite team growing up. But Harper talked Monday about staying in Washington, saying that “I’ve always said: If I’m in those plans, I’d absolutely love to be here…But am I in those plans? I have no idea.”
Fans aren’t sure what to think either. In a poll conducted by The Sabre, 44 percent of St John’s students believe Bryce Harper will be on the Nationals’ 2019 starting lineup.
Harper’s focus on this season may not have paid off. His current .244 batting average is below his career average, dropping .075 from last season along with a .101 drop in his slugging percentage. Harper has suffered similar drops before, and recovered; but in a contract year, a player’s most recent statistics are crucial to determining either if their current teams thinks they’re worth keeping, or what other teams would be interesting in adding them.
This has been a rough season for the Nationals as a whole: after winning their division in the past two seasons, Washington spent the majority of the season around .500, never more than 11 games above. Supporters also were disappointed by the late trades of fan-favorite players Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez for Minor League prospects.
That didn’t stop 28,260 fans from coming Wednesday to give Bryce what may be a final send off. He got a standing ovation at both the start and end of all 4 of his at-bats, despite going 0-for-4 in a game where Washington found runs elsewhere.
Bryce has never been with another team since he was drafted in 2010. Harper made his career debut in April 28, 2012 at Dodger Stadium, and played his first game at Nationals Park on May 1st. Since then, he’s collected over 900 hits: 181 of them doubles, and 184 more as home runs. He’s appeared in 924 games across 6 seasons with Washington, and was a major part in the 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2018 National League East Division titles.
Harper has certainly had some great moments in Washington. During his rookie season, he famously stole home on national television. He was on the field celebrating Jayson Werth’s famous walk-off home run that same year, one of the club’s most important moments since moving from Montreal, Canada in 2005. Harper’s 100th home run, which was also his first career grand slam, came in 2016. In last year’s division series, Harper hit an electrifying home run that ignited a 5 run comeback inning.
And perhaps there was some hope in the 2018 Home Run Derby, where Bryce walked off a win in front of a packed Nationals Park, his DC flag bandana adorning his head like a crown.
Harper has always been the star of Washington. He’s been selected to the N.L. All-Star Team in all but one of his six seasons (2014). He also has won the Rookie of the Year in 2012, and NL MVP in 2015. And before the game Wednesday, he was honored as the Nationals’ 2018 Player of the Year.
As Harper put it Wednesday, “I can’t really stand here and say it’s going to be farewell or anything like that, because nobody knows. Nobody knows what this offseason holds.” But no matter where Bryce starts next season, Washington fans made sure to know that he was appreciated. After all, as one fan’s sign declared: “Home is where the start is.”
Editorial note: All stats in this story are accurate as of Friday, September 28th.