The mobs, pitchforks and flaming torches in hand, descended on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Grown adults were reduced to tears.
Yeah, Bryce Harper didn’t show up for Winterfest again.
Winterfest, for those unfamiliar, is when the Nats set up shop on the convention floor of D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, or occasionally at National Harbor or elsewhere. Players, coaches, and media personalities descend upon the event for what’s advertised (as early as September) as a way for fans to meet their favorite players and enjoy a weekend of holiday fun.
Yet again, Harper missed the event. The first time around in 2014, fans had a reason to be legitimately annoyed — Harper, in the midst of a contract dispute with the team, seemingly ditched out on the event for that reason only.
He returned in 2015, post-MVP season, only to skip out in 2016 for the absurd, bogus reason of... his wedding. This year, his anniversary took precedent over the event.
In other words: Harper missed the event for completely legitimate reasons.
For some fans, that did not compute.
How could Harper, the team’s marquee star, possibly skip an event like this?
Sure, he wasn’t contractually obligated to do it. And, yeah, he was on the other side of the country. And, yeah, it was his first wedding anniversary.
Other than that? No, no reasons whatsoever.
However, there’s a section of fans that remain adamant: Harper gets paid millions of dollars a year to play a game. Why not say a quick ‘hello’ to thank them for their loyalty?
Yes, the Nats would probably love it if Harper attended every Winterfest. As he does during baseball season, he would draw more people to the event.
But Harper doesn’t have any obligation — contractual or moral — to the fans to travel across the country and spend the day with the fans instead of hanging out with his wife.
And, there are plenty of great players who did graciously make the trip over to the District to say hello, who fans should have appreciated the living daylights out of, enjoyed, and respected those who chose not to attend.
All of which was apparently unclear to some people.
I share him with you for more than 9 months out of the year. I think on our first WEDDING anniversary it’s fair i get him to myself. Our marriage will always come first. If you don’t like it, learn to get over it ♀️— Kayla Harper (@kayyharper8) December 16, 2017
The offseason is the time for players to enjoy their families, to pat their dogs, change their babies’ diapers and to go out for a hike. Seeing the fans is optional.
Moreover, for someone like Harper, Winterfest simply can’t be that enjoyable. Most players are assigned one or two staff members or security guards to them to help make sure they get from place to place on time and aren’t tackled (Adam Eaton is the main concern here) on the way to the main stage.
For Bryce Harper, the story is different.
Harper is the most recognizable Nat. If you were to ask someone to name a National, or even a baseball player, the odds are high that you would hear the name “Bryce Harper” repeated back to you.
Which means that Harper, simply due to how well-known he is, needs more than a few guards or staff members. Last time around, entourage was the term that most aptly applied to his situation. That whole scenario, in addition to being hounded by a horde of fans wherever he goes, probably isn’t fun for Harper, nor is it enjoyable for the organization to put together.
If that, plus the wedding, and the cross-country flight still isn’t convincing enough, then it’s time to revisit a fundamental mantra that applies to Major League Baseball:
Baseball is a business. The teams are organizations designed to maximize profit, take money, and hopefully provide some happiness to the consumers along the way.
Winterfest is organized in the same way. It is a revenue stream in a season otherwise devoid of them. It is no more than a way for the team to make a few bucks.
Winterfest is meant for you to slide down the psuedo-hill, roll around in a plastic ball, ask Mike Rizzo or Dave Martinez a questions at a Q&A, put on a VR headset and take a few swings, and then for you to go home and eagerly await baseball season.
And sure, there are assuredly some players that probably do enjoy it, or at least don’t abjectly hate it — those new to the team, or younger prospects enjoying the newfound attention, probably get a kick out of it. Even stars like Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon make it a point to come.
And from the fan point of view, it’s delightful to meet one’s favorite player or get their autograph, and appearances and high levels of interaction from people like Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle, and plenty of others is very much appreciated.
But that’s not the point of the event. Player interaction is a nice bonus, but if any player doesn’t want to disrupt their outside lives or their time with their family to go hang out in what is essentially a glorified warehouse floor, then they shouldn’t be chastised for that.