If you believe, as do I, that the Almighty created baseball as a relief from politics, I herewith offer, as a public service, a column not about Trump, Cruz, Sanders & Clinton but about Harper & friends.
We all have our ways of marking the seasons. I know itís spring when in early April I start my morning by skipping The Post front page and going right to the sports section. Itís not until Iíve fully savored the baseball box scores that I resignedly turn to politics.
My non-baseball friends are forever puzzled by my devotion to the game. I agree entirely with them about the irrationality of fandom. Why should a grown man with a house, a family, two jobs and a cat named Will Feral (brought in from the cold and now largely domesticated, like the Danish King Canute by the English) care about a bunch of millionaire 20-something strangers playing a boysí game in baggy uniforms?
Itís ridiculous. Yet when the hometown Washington Nationals win, my mood brightens. Canít help it.
When they first came here a decade ago, they didnít win much. In 2008-2009, the Nats lost 205 games. I went to the park anyway. When your team is good, you go to see them win. When theyíre bad, you go for the moments the beautiful moments, like the perfectly executed outfield assist, that grace every difficult athletic endeavor from the balance beam to the giant slalom.
The Nationals, being a very good team now, practically guarantee such moments every game. Their newly acquired second baseman, the one with the impossibly level swing and no leg kick, leads the league in hitting. Their star pitcher tossed two no-hitters last season, something done exactly five times in the previous 115 years. And then thereís Bryce Harper.
Heís the best baseball player on the planet, probably in the entire Milky Way. (Those box scores are slow in coming in.) And for the next three years, heíll be playing at Nats Park. After that, he becomes a free agent and will command the largest contract in the history of professional sports. He might very well end up with the money-bag Dodgers or Yankees and $500 million. Give or take.
So be it. By 2019, we could all be underwater or living under Sharia law, depending on whether your doomsday is of the Democratic or Republican flavor. In the interim, Iím going to eat, drink and watch Harper.
At 16, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the ďChosen One.Ē At 19, when most elite players are starting college ball, he was the National League rookie of the year. For his age 22 season, he was unanimously voted the NL Most Valuable Player, the youngest to score such a sweep. That was last year. This year, heís even better.
He came in as a brash, hyperenergetic, often reckless rookie who in his eighth major league game stole home off a former World Series MVP pitcher who had deliberately plunked him minutes earlier just to teach him a lesson. It obviously didnít take.
These days, Harper plays with more controlled fury. No longercrashes into outfield walls. And has tamed his violently explosive swing with such pitch recognition and plate discipline that in the age of the strikeout up 24 percent in the past decade he has fewer strikeouts than home runs.
And itís those home runs that turn every Harper at-bat into an event. Like Thursday last week. Harper comes to the plate with 99 career home runs. Bases loaded, two outs, Nats trailing 1-0, crowd rocking.
It was a movie moment and he did his Roy Hobbs a rocket to right field that seemed to be still rising when it hit the scoreboard on the upper-deck facade. And broke it. Knocked out the ďrĒ in the Good Humor ad running at the moment of impact. Place went nuts.
Harperís first-ever grand slam. What does he do the very next time he comes up with the bases loaded, just five days later? Need you ask?
In spring training, Harper hit two home runs in a game off Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. The second cleared a 35-foot wall at the 420-foot mark in dead center. Said the Natsí new pitching coach, incredulous, to the manager: ďWe get to watch this every day?Ē
If you live in Washington, you get to watch this our own young Mickey Mantle 81 times a season. How then can you get too despondent about our presidential choices, the kowtow to Cuba or the decline of the California smelt? Itís spring. Itís warm. Thereís baseball. Thereís Harper. Why, even the Cubs are good this year.