WASHINGTON — We need to talk about Bryce Harper’s love affair with Chicago.
Look. It’s a free country. When Harper reaches free agency in 2018, he’s free to sign with whomever he wants, in whatever city he wants, whether that’s Chicago, New York, Philadelphia (please no) or Washington, D.C.
It’s just that an alarming number of signs are suddenly pointing to Chicago and, reminiscent of #KD2DC, Cubs fans are even now armed with their own cute little social media hashtag: #HarperToTheCubs
This isn’t as simple as a few innocent Instagram posts, which Harper and his wife, Kayla, used to propel #HarperToTheCubs speculation with the Nationals in Chicago over the weekend.
It’s public knowledge Harper is childhood friends with Cubs slugger Kris Bryant. Just as it’s public knowledge Peter Gammons, the most respected baseball scribe, reported in June — on a Chicago radio station — that Harper really would “prefer to play for the Cubs.”
Which Harper followed up with an Instagram post less than a month later of himself and Bryant, alongside their wives, captioned with the hashtag #Back2BackOneDay.
And maybe it’s purely coincidental that Harper’s dog seems to be named after Wrigley Field.
Perhaps, on some level, D.C. sports fans deserve this, as cosmic retribution for #KD2DC. True or not, it sure stings seeing Bryant’s wife, Jess, co-opt #HarperToTheCubs in a since-deleted Instagram story featuring Kayla Harper over the weekend.
“Fans want it…” Jess Bryant wrote. “& we are more than good with this idea…”
Is Harper laying the groundwork for his inevitable departure? Or is he simply enjoying the position he’s in, toying with both fan bases obsessed over his every move?
Ask any Nats beat reporter, they’ll tell you the latter is certainly accurate. 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen asked a question in this vein of The Post’s Chelsea Janes on Monday.
“I wonder if he knows how cognizant Nats fans are of his love of Chicago,” Paulsen said.
“As a Nats fan, every time I see that, I go, ‘Yep. He’s gonna be a Cub.’ Does he know that people think that way? Or does he care?”
“Oh, he knows,” Janes said. “And, I don’t know that he cares, but he certainly knows that everything he says is being analyzed right now.”
“When he posts that stuff, it’s not that anything’s a done deal, I don’t think,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think there’s been any like major life decision made, but it’s a place he loves to play, and he knows that everyone cares about everything he’s posting and saying. Everyone’s re-tweeting it, like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ looking for hints.
“So he’s very cognizant and I think he just kind of likes keeping people guessing and keeping them on their toes. But, yeah, he certainly seems to like Chicago. He plays well there. But we knew that. We know he’s a big-city guy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise, but he’s definitely aware, and whatever you think of that is up to you.”
So… are Nats fans right to be concerned? Or is Harper just having some fun, trying to get through the grind of 162?
Either way, he’s planted this seed, and 14 months is a lot of time for it to grow roots.