Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper is on something of a quest to, in the tongue-in-cheek words of his hat, Make Baseball Fun Again.
In the offseason, Harper expressed some displeasure about the state of the game, and, in particular, the way the old school unwritten rules prevent players from comfortably enjoying the game in a way that comes naturally to them. Big strikeout? Celebrate. Big hit? Flip a bat. And so on and so forth.
Now Harper’s got a highly visible support of his campaign, and it’s someone who quite clearly loves to enjoy the game at which he’s very good: Yasiel Puig.
Bryce Harper is my idol now. I’m going to join him in the “make baseball fun again” campaign; I’m just waiting to get my shirts and baseball caps. He’s always been a great friend and a great athlete, and I admire him. I like how he plays the game, and I think he gets it. It’s good to see an American player saying that there needs to be a little more fun in baseball. Fans leave everything behind to come and see us play. We have to make baseball fun for the fans and not take everything so personal.
It’s not about Harper or Puig making noise about it. In baseball, it is more common for a pitcher to punch you out three times than for you to hit the ball out of the park. So after you have struck out three times against a pitcher and you finally get a home run, bat flips are just an emotional expression — not about taunting the pitcher. That’s what Jose Bautista did [in Game 5 of last year’s ALDS]; he changed the result of that game with that swing. It was a big thrill for him, and he flipped the bat. He has always been a respectful player and only flipped his bat when he was overcome by emotion. Afterward, he was criticized as if what he did was wrong. But he had fun!
I really couldn’t agree more with what Puig says, and especially the cultural differences that his comments highlight. What many American-born players and fans see as showboating or excessively showing up the opposition, Latin American players simply see as enjoying the game the way they always have. I’m sure it meant a lot to Puig, and to many other players, to see Harper speaking to these issues.
Like I’ve said before, this is a topic near and dear to my own heart, and gets at the core of why I started writing at Baseball is Fun in the first place.
Read the rest of Puig’s interview here at ESPN.