Even in spring training, Bryce Harper plays the game with a focus and intensity that is matched by few.
That much was evident during Wednesday's Grapefruit League game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Harper was locked in as if the result would alter Washington's place in the standings, and the added emotion ended up boiling over into a fury as he took exception to a call at first base and was ultimately ejected for his outburst. Quite a rarity for a spring training game.
It happened in the fourth inning after Harper hit a slow roller to second baseman Mark Ellis. Ellis charged, made a clean barehand pick up and an accurate off-balance throw to nab Harper by inches. It was a tight play that was not formally reviewed, indicating the Nationals bench believed the call was correct. But Harper reacted to the call immediately and continued voicing his displeasure as he passed Gosney on his way to the dugout. The young umpire wasn't having it and didn't waste much time sending Harper to the showers.
It should probably be noted that Gosney was working alongside veteran umpires Angel Hernandez and CB Bucknor on Wednesday. Two guys not exactly known for their patience when the games actually count. One can only assume their philosophy during spring games doesn't include exhibiting more patience, and that philosophy likely rubbed off on Gosney.
That's not to say Harper didn't earn his ejection. While it's difficult to tell what exactly was said, it's clear the initial reaction was heated and didn't stop there.
The situation continued escalating after Harper reached the dugout. Because Harper would have to walk across the diamond to reach the clubhouse at the Cardinals spring facility, the Nationals questioned whether he should leave immediately or wait until the inning concluded. Manager Matt Williams and Bucknor got face-to-face over the issue, and it was determined the game wouldn't continue until Harper left.
As pointed out on the Cardinals broadcast, it wasn't a moment that will endear Harper to his critics. But that's just how Harper laces up his cleats. He's an emotional player that won't be changing his style any time soon, so it's only natural that as the Washington Nationals opener against the New York Mets next Monday nears, Harper makes sure his personal intensity dial is turned up to regular season ready well in advance.
It has nothing to do with his .214 batting average this spring. That will be long forgotten soon enough anyway. It's all about the mindset, and for better or for worse, Harper's seems to be right where he likes it.
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