HARPER HOMERS

The All-Star Game will have a tough act to follow.

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Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on Monday night with an unforgettable performance; he smashed nine home runs in less than a minute to tie Kyle Schwarber, and then sent his hometown crowd into a frenzy with a bonus time blast to take trophy home.

“It’s unbelievable,” Harper told reporters after the game. “I think just having the crowd out there and really feeding off them. We have some of the best fans in all of baseball, and to be able to that with my family out there, that’s an incredible moment, not only for me but for the organization and the Nationals fans, and I’m very blessed and humbled.”

Even with Harper as the hometown hero, the atmosphere was somewhat unexpectedly electric given a perceived overall lack of star power in the event.  But, in what could be his last big moment in a Nationals uniform, Harper, decked out in red, white and blue from head to toe, captured the crowd with a dramatic display in which he closed an 18-9 deficit in under a minute.ASG2

He then sent them into a frenzy with his bonus time blast, with his homer and subsequent celebratory bat flip electrifying an event that can sometimes fall flat in person.

Making it even better?  Harper’s dad, Ron, was the one throwing to him.

“I mean, I couldn’t be more fortunate than to have him throwing for me and just so blessed, and, I mean, I don’t know, I’ve got one of the best families in all the world and just so happy to be able to share that moment with them and with my family and this crowd and these fans,” Bryce Harper said. “Man, they did a great job.”

Nationals fans will have plenty to cheer about as well on Tuesday with Max Scherzer set to get the nod as the National League’s starting pitcher for the second consecutive year.

“When (manager) Dave (Roberts) told me that he was going to give me the nod, so many emotions (come out) when you know that you’re pitching in your home park,” Scherzer told reporters at a Monday afternoon press conference.

“This is such an honor for the All-Star Game to be here.  In previous experiences of being in the All-Star Games, you know, seeing the hometown players and how the fans get behind the hometown players, it’s always been a special moment just watching that from afar and being on the other side.  So, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like to have the Nats fans here supporting all of us, Bryce and (Sean) Doolittle, as well. It’s just an honor to be able to have that recognition and go out there and start this thing again, because this is just a dream come true.”

ASG3-Mike Ashmore

 

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My Second Super Bowl

MINNEAPOLIS – I’ve been doing this a long time now. 16 years, all over the country, covering events big and small…I thought I’d seen it all. On the smaller end, I’ve worked minor league and college events with a few dozen people in the stands. At the bigger end of the spectrum? I’ve got the last five World Series, last six Stanley Cup Finals, the Daytona 500, a bunch of big UFC events and a lot of other big games under my belt since I started this career at the ripe old age of 20. It’s hard for me to find new experiences, it’s simply now working hard to get to repeat the old ones in a new setting. So, I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this week, when I flew into Minneapolis to work my second Super Bowl, and discovered that the media center was set up in a shopping mall. Of course, it isn’t just any mall, it’s the Mall of America, a 4.2 million square foot retail palace that takes the better part of a day to walk through. But still, seeing “radio row” set up in the middle of the food court was a bit jarring to say the least. For example, last year, the media center in Houston was in a convention center, and it made for a far more intimate setting even if there were still plenty of fans around. Here? Between the crush of people shopping at the mall who don’t care about football and the thousands of media who have descended into town for the event, it’s been difficult to make your away around sometimes. With that said, this has been an amazing week. Growing up back home in New Jersey, I never thought I’d go to a Super Bowl. When I started my career, I never thought I’d get to cover one. So, to now be working my second straight means a lot…in my opinion, with the possible exception of the Olympics, there’s nothing bigger you can do in this profession than work this game – and the week leading up to it, of course – and it’s all a nice reminder that all of the hard work it took to get here was worth it.

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Celebrity sightings? I’ve heard about far more than I’ve actually seen myself. My Uber driver met Kevin Hart. I’ll have to settle for waiting outside the mall next to Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas. While there are plenty of events and parties that go with the game itself, I’ve kept myself focused on work; I covered the Minnesota Wild game Friday night and will work the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Saturday night. There’s certainly plenty of fun to be had – I made it a point to find the original “Jucy Lucy” burger while I was up here – but this isn’t the time of year where work should just stop.

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Keeping your eyes on the prize is important for everyone involved. Of course, the grind continues for the two teams here, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles made it to Minnesota in somewhat improbable fashion, recovering from the devastating loss of Carson Wentz to rally behind Nick Foles in getting to the big game; they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, preventing the first ever “home game” at the Super Bowl…so much for a “purple reign,” although there are rumors of halftime performer Justin Timberlake having a Prince hologram next to him on stage. As for New England…well, of course they made it. Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game for an incredible seventh straight season, and they came back to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to advance to the Super Bowl for the 8th time in the “Brady Era” and tenth appearance overall. The Patriots have been here before, and it shows. From the demands of the week with media requests, tickets and the extra week of preparation to the actual game itself, New England showed a cool, calm and collected approach throughout the week. While much has been made of the Eagles defense, it’s hard to bet against TB12 and company this time of year, with their first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed. I expect a close game, but I’ll take Brady and the Patriots in a 27-17 win over the Eagles on Sunday.

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