Harper: Baseball has always been a fun family affair
ATLANTA — Given the attention thrust upon him before the Nationals even arrived in town, it was little surprise Bryce Harper became such a key figure in this weekend's series against the Braves.
The 20-year-old was front-and-center throughout, from his first at-bat Friday night to his controversial, game-ending strikeout on Sunday afternoon.
Through it all, the crowds at Turner Field showered Harper with boos, the kind usually afforded only to a handful of visiting-team stars. And the kid relished every moment of it.
"I love when the crowd goes crazy or they boo me," Harper said after Sunday's 2-1 loss. "I live for that situation. I think a lot of guys do. Just like the old commercials" "We live for this." Live for the booing and they're going crazy. It makes me a better player."
Harper wound up going 3-for-8 in the series, reaching base seven times in 12 plate appearances thanks to two walks and two notable instances in which he was hit by a pitch on Friday night.
The latter of the two plunkings — a 91 mph fastball from Luis Avilan off the back of his upper left arm — became a focal point of the series, because it prompted a formal warning to be issued by the umpiring crew, because it led to Stephen Strasburg retaliating against Justin Upton on Saturday and because it kept the bruised Harper out of the lineup for the middle game of the series.
Harper, who also had been hit by Julio Teheran two weeks earlier in Washington and prompted both benches to empty, tried to stay above the fray this time around.
Asked if he thought the Braves were targeting him, Harper replied: "I don't want to comment on that."
In the end, Atlanta and its fans got the upper hand, by winning the series, extending its lead over the Nationals to 15 1/2 games and watching Harper get rung up on a controversial check-swing call to end Sunday's game. Harper had words with umpire Marvin Hudson after that call.
"I just told him how good he was, and how good he looked," Harper said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Harper also yelled something at a fan who was harassing him from above the Nationals dugout as he departed the field, but he later insisted he holds no ill-will toward the Braves fan base, praising it for its passion.
"I love these fans, I really do," Harper said. "These people are absolutely unbelievable for their team. If I was playing for a team like this and had a crowd like that, I'd be stoked to play here every night, too. I love playing at Nats Park. We have a great crowd, too. Going to Philly, going here, Fenway, New York ... there are so many great crowds. This is a fan base and organization that really love the Braves."