Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals faces plenty of nerve-wracking situations as one of the best hitters in baseball, but he said that's nothing compared to how nervous he gets when watching the Vegas Golden Knights.
Harper, who was born in Las Vegas, never had a professional sports team from his hometown to cheer for until the Golden Knights began play this season. They broke numerous NHL records for a first-year team, finished 51-24-7 to win the Pacific Division, then swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games to advance to the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets.
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"I don't get nervous playing baseball," the 25-year-old outfielder told The Washington Post in remarks published Tuesday. "But I go home and sit on my couch and watch these guys, and my hands are sweating, and it's just like, 'God, I'm freaking out.' They score, and I'm like, 'Yeah!' And (my wife) Kayla is sitting there like, 'Calm down. It's OK.' She's fired up too, but I'm at a different level."
Harper dropped the ceremonial first puck at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 23 prior to a game against the Washington Capitals.
"I've never been such a big fan of a team in a sport," Harper said. "You watch football for fantasy. You watch other sports, you're like, 'All right, cool.' But hockey, it's so much fun to watch. We've had the Caps here, and I like that. But having my own team to root for, there's nothing better."
Harper even sent personalized bats to the Golden Knights earlier in the playoffs.
Vegas, which defeated Winnipeg 3-1 in Game 2 on Monday, is three wins from the Cup Final entering Game 3 of the best-of-7 series Wednesday (9 p.m.ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Harper said he is hoping the Capitals, who lead the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Final, and Vegas each make it there.
Harper has been to plenty of Capitals games and has met many of the players since making his MLB debut for the Nationals in 2012. But with a team in his hometown, he's shifted his allegiances.
"I love watching [goalie Braden] Holtby," Harper said. "[Nicklas] Backstrom, [John] Carlson, obviously Ovi (Alex Ovechkin). They're a blast to watch.
"Having a team to call my own, it's so different. Now I understand why people root for the Nationals, or root for anybody. I've got my Vegas Golden Knights."
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