Imagine being a die-hard Nationals fan. You’ve been a supporter of the team since it arrived in D.C. 14 years ago. One of your favorite players, Bryce Harper, is an electric, MVP-winning slugger and arguably the most popular baseball player in the MLB. You shell out over a $100 to buy a replica of his jersey.
What do you do when its opening day of the season and that player has signed with the archrival Philadelphia Phillies?
If you’re Eric Pollard of Fairfax, you find blue painter’s tape, scribble the name “RENDON” in sharpie, and slap it over the name “Harper” on your No. 34 Harper jersey.
“With Harper gone, [Anthony] Rendon is the only Nats players with a shot to win the MVP,” says Pollard, who turns 32 on March 29. “He’s our best offensive player.”
For about seven innings during this sunny and pleasant Thursday afternoon for the Nats’ opening day game against the New York Mets, I walk around the Nats Park concourse in search of fans wearing Harper jerseys. It isn’t easy. I spot more Alex Ovechkin jerseys than I do of Harper’s. And when I do find them, they’re usually defaced in some way.
Scroll around Twitter, and you’ll find Nats fans who have ripped the name Harper off their jerseys, added expletives above the name Harper, or, like Pollard, have taped over the name.
“I kinda debated wearing this,” Byron Urbina of D.C. tells me early in the game. He’s wearing a blue, unblemished Harper jersey. He bought it at Nats Park during Game 2 of the team’s playoff series against the Chicago Cubs in 2017. “To tell you the truth, if it wasn’t so expensive, I would be rocking a Juan Soto jersey right now.”
Urbina, 36, has been a fan of the Nationals since their days playing at RFK Stadium. His family is from Nicaragua, and are “huge baseball fans.” They rooted for the Baltimore Orioles when he was younger, but he never felt attached to that team. Then the Nats, and Harper, came along.
“I like Bryce Harper,” he says, before pausing. “But going to the archrivals … Man, I just don’t like that too much.”
Pollard agrees. He understands that Harper made a business decision, but he wanted to make a “fun statement” with his white-and-red Harper jersey. He bought it in 2013 or 2014, and says he will wear it to every game he attends this season—the tape included.
“I may to replace the tape if Rendon leaves next year,” Pollard says of the player who is in final season before free agency.
(Fans near Pollard’s section have been shouting, “Lock him up!” whenever Rendon steps up to the plate.)
The Nats eventually lose, 2-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 42,263. A sea of red-clad fans head toward the Metro.
In less than a week, the Phillies will be in town, along with Harper, who appears to have fully embraced his new town.
Pollard plans to be there, and he intends to make his feelings known.
“Yeah, I’ll be booing,” he says. “That’s the fun of baseball, right? Getting to boo someone.”