WASHINGTON — There is the version of Las Vegas known the world over, the desert oasis run by the Rat Pack, the hyper-marketed city of sin. Then there is life outside The Strip, where a patchwork of communities sprang forth, many of them suburban, even sleepy.
It is from the diamonds within this version of Las Vegas that the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant began an ascent that led them here. At the National League Division Series that begins Friday, two of baseball’s best not only will face off as rivals but band together as ambassadors for a hometown trying to heal in the aftermath of the shootings that left 58 dead.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” Harper said. “Just talking to friends, talking to family that were at the concert, seeing the things that have happened and transpired from that, it just goes to show how strong our community is in Vegas, how much of a small community it can be.”
It was within that small community that Harper and Bryant first crossed paths as kids. Even back then, Harper cast a larger-than-life image. That was the most vivid memory relayed by Bryant, even though he is nine months older.
“It was when he would pitch and he would be throwing way harder than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Bryant said. “It was more of the fear factor of ‘my gosh, if he hits me, I’m going to be crying for a week.’ ”
Fueled by funyons and slurpees — his rewards after long days of practice — Harper slugged his way to the big leagues as the face of a Nationals team that is aching to win a postseason series for the first time. Last year, Bryant stood at the center of the Cubs’ first World Series title since 1908.
Aside from one season playing on the same youth team, the two have been rivals. Harper won the NL Most Valuable Player award in 2015 and Bryant snagged it in 2016.
Now they meet again, this time with outsized stakes. But first, the sons of Las Vegas pulled together. Between team workouts Thursday, Bryant and Harper joined together for a public service announcement in honor of their reeling hometown.
Bryant had friends at the concert Sunday night, including his “soon-to-be sister-in-law” who he said was “running right in the crowd.”
“Everybody’s pulling together and providing, if anybody needs any help, everybody is pulling the same boat trying to help anybody they can,” Harper said. “It’s definitely an unbelievable thing that happened. You never want that to happen to anybody across the world, but for it to happen in your hometown, it definitely hits home.”