The Great Eight and The Great Hate
Greetings from The Booth!
What a week in sports! As of this post the Washington Nationals and Shenandoah Hornets baseball teams have righted their respective ships somewhat. College Basketball’s Final Four happens this weekend with the Virginia Cavaliers still alive in a quest to cleanse their palates of last year’s UMBC debacle. And the Washington Capitals have clinched the Metro Division title and look to defend the Stanley Cup.
This week marked the return of Bryce Harper to DC for the first time since signing his $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The baseball world and most of the sports world was focused on our Nation’s Capital on what was a rainy, chilly Tuesday night at Nats Park. The big question was, how was the former face of the National’s franchise going to be received in his old ballpark?
That question was answered early. Aided by a social media push during the day, the crowd booed loudly during a National’s video board tribute to Harper before the start of the game. The boos grew louder when Harper stepped into the on-deck circle, and even louder still when he was introduced into the batter’s box. Playing the “good guy” in this drama was Max Scherzer, who struck out Harper twice. It was great theatre.
The drama didn’t end there, as Harper crushed a 485-foot homer late in the game, to the delight of the Philly fans, who had ventured down to DC by the busload to cheer their new star. The Harper bat flip toward the Nationals dugout punctuated his triumphant “homecoming.”
The fact that Harper now plays for a hated division rival also adds to the bad feelings. To put it in perspective, imagine if John Riggins, a beloved DC folk hero, had become a Dallas Cowboy in the prime of his career…
Now, compare the “Great Hate” with the “Great Eight”, the Capital’s Alex Ovechkin. The Russian superstar signed a 13-year deal in 2008 that will likely make him a Cap for life.
When he retires, The Great Eight will in all probability be one of the top 5 players to ever don a Hockey sweater and will surely be the greatest Capitals player of all-time (he already is that). Whereas Bryce Harper was recently voted by his peers as the most overrated player in MLB, Ovechkin to me is, if this is possible, one of the most underrated, at least in DC.
Maybe it’s because even the best hockey players are on the ice only about third of most games, and that the NHL is not as mainstream a brand as the NFL or MLB. And because the great hockey players do lots of subtle things that aren’t easily recognized by casual fans. I really don’t think Ovechkin will be truly appreciated until he has hung up the skates.
In comparison, one athlete brought a World Championship to the Nation’s Capital, one did not fulfill that potential. One looks like the ultimate blue-collar “everyman”, the other looks like The Ultimate Hipster. One has a high-profile agent, while the other signed his long-term deal with the help of his parents.
And, one professed to love DC and then left, while the other who calls Washington his home has stayed.
Until next time from The Booth,
GO CAPS! GO NATS! GO HORNETS!