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“He’s the best hitter in the game”

Jul 14, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

USA Today Sports Images

CINCINNATI — Inside a ballroom at the Cincinnati Westin on Monday sat the best players the game of baseball has to offer, dynamic young talents like Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, recent MVPs like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, one of the great hitters in history in Albert Pujols and 3-time World Series champion Buster Posey.

And not one of those guys will be batting third for the National League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. Nope, the guy who gets that honor is the guy who was drawing rave reviews from just about everybody in attendance at the 86th Midsummer Classic.

The guy who will be wearing the curly W cap and blazing gold cleats when he’s introduced at Great American Ball Park.

“I mean, he’s the best hitter in the game,” Braves right-hander Shelby Miller said.

There wasn’t much dispute about that designation among the 67 other All-Stars here in town. Bryce Harper has taken that mantle over the last three months, a remarkable three months that has the baseball world abuzz.

“To see the success he’s having right now, it really doesn’t surprise anybody,” said Miller, who has surrendered two hits to Harper (including a double) in six head-to-head at-bats this season. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s an athlete. He’s a tough guy. Obviously being the first overall pick, a lot of expectations, and he’s done well in that spotlight.”

Few embrace the spotlight more than Harper, who has found himself the center of the attention since he was a teenager launching 500-foot home runs in high school showcase events and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And few know how to genuflect toward his fellow All-Stars in a setting like this like Harper, who may be as confident as anybody in baseball history but recognizes this isn’t the time or place to show it.

“I’m excited to play in a lineup with these guys, a certain group of guys that are some of the best in baseball,” he said. “I’m very excited, very humble to be in this lineup. Just excited to be part of the whole thing.”

And who does Harper believe is the best player in the game?

“Right now? It’s gotta be Mike Trout,” he said without hesitation. “Everybody knows that.”

Well, maybe in 2013 and 2014 everybody knew that. Now, it’s not so clear-cut.

For all his remarkable achievements, Trout hasn’t ever hit .339 with 26 homers and an 1.168 OPS before the All-Star break. Neither has anybody else in the last decade, for that matter, with Derrek Lee the last player to put up those kind of first-half numbers back in 2005.

And this is a very different game today, with offensive production at its lowest point in more than two decades.

“Especially with how great pitching is these days, for him to be able to put up these kind of numbers is pretty incredible,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “Very scary. You’ve got to give Bryce a lot of credit. He knows what he’s doing at the plate. He’s not just up there swinging at everything.”

Harper’s remarkable plate discipline impresses his fellow All-Stars more than anything else. During his first three big-league seasons, he could be counted on to chase more than a few pitches out of the strike zone. Now, he patiently watches them fly by, happy to take his walks, leading to a league-best .464 on-base percentage.

“He’s obviously got a good approach this year,” Miller said. “He’s looking for a good pitch to hit. Not saying he hasn’t done that in the past. But this year, he’s got it figured out. He knows what he’s doing.”

And he may not be done figuring things out.

“The thing is, he’s still growing,” teammate Max Scherzer said. “He’s still learning the game. And that’s what makes him exciting to watch, because he’s going to continue to get better. He’s not going to necessarily hit for a higher average or hit more homers. But he’s going to understand the game more. As pitchers start to figure him out, he’s going to have to do things differently. And that’s a game he understands. We’ve talked about it. It’s really exciting to see him grow in certain ways.”

Wait, Scherzer isn’t suggesting there might still be more to Bryce Harper than we’ve already seen, is he?

“Oh, there’s still more there,” the right-hander insisted. “I firmly believe it. That’s how good I think he is. He’s just going to be able to do more things more consistently and understand more situations to be more productive. It’s not that he’s going to hit the ball now 700 feet. He’s just going to understand what the pitcher’s trying to do and still be able to get the job done.”

Watch out, baseball. You’ve been warned.

  1. nats1924 - Jul 14, 2015 at 6:46 AM

    Yes, Harp is amazing. His ABs remind me a lot of Barry Bonds.

    Let’s jump ahead a couple of offseasons – Do the Nats trade Harp before he hits FA or roll the dice and get nothing in return if he leaves after the 2018 season?

    The ugly part of having the 2018 All-Star game here is fans will be hard pressed to let Harp leave. But, for a $400+ contract, Nats could sign two Max Sherzer’s with that kind of money.

    The wild card here (and ive said this since day one) is the MASN tv deal If the Nats win their tv contract dispute, I see the Nats making an investment in keeping Harper.

    No TV = Harp will be long gone wearing those pin stripes.

    …go Nats!!!

    • veejh - Jul 14, 2015 at 7:12 AM

      I just don’t see management letting him go. Maybe I’m wrong, but thats the kind of player that will put butts in seats for years to come.

      • tcostant - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        There no “Franchise Tag” in baseball. If he truely wants to play somewhere else, he’ll be able to do the winter after the All-Star game is in D.C. I think we need to offer $300M this ioffseason, which would be hard to turn down.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:54 PM

        Hard for me to turn down. But pretty much everything Bryce does is impossible, for me.

    • thelatencn - Jul 14, 2015 at 7:20 AM

      There aren’t two Max Scherzers.

      From a financial standpoint, considering ticket sales, ratings, merchandizing and all the rest, Harper may be a sound investment. Somebody is going to pay the price. Why not Washington?

      Admittedly, the MASN mess is a huge drag on the team’s ability to leverage its assets. Somehow it will eventually get resolved. Indeed, in the end, Harper may be the catalyst that makes it happen.

  2. rlndtln - Jul 14, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    Harp goes and I will too.Whatever it takes including ownership must be done.

    • NationalAnthem - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:18 AM

      Yeah well I said that about Vladimir Guerrero and here I am still religiously following the franchise years later. If it unfortunately comes to pass that Bryce leaves as a free agent at some point in the future, perhaps you too will learn that the team and the game isn’t about one player.

      • scnatsfan - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:45 AM

        It’s about the name on the front of the uniform, not the name on the back

      • nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 9:03 AM

        scnatsfan, and theres the reason the Yankees dont put names on jerseys.

      • rlndtln - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        You can not lose Harp.It will be the equal of the Red Sox trading Babe Ruth.

    • nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 9:02 AM

      The Yankees and Jeter had some tough negotiations on his final 2 contracts. The main thing was Jeter wanted to stay. If Harper truly wants to stay a contract extension will get done. I think its that simple. The Nats ownership will spend the money but the player has to want to stay.

      • jd - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:22 AM

        nats128,

        That’s exactly the point. Harper will get ridiculous money wherever he signs and there will be multiple teams willing to spend the money. If he really wants to stay in DC a deal can be done.

    • Section 222 - Jul 14, 2015 at 1:26 PM

      Promise? 😀

  3. alexva6 - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    “Let’s jump ahead a couple of offseasons” – let’s not and say we did.

  4. scnatsfan - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    In the end, it won’t matter what we offer as all of the offers will set him for life, as well as anyone he comes in contact with. All that matters is if he wants to stay; if he does then management will make it happen, if not then management makes him an offer just to save face.

  5. bowdenball - Jul 14, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Harper has three full seasons after this one until his contract is up.

    I’m all for long-term planning and discussing the club’s future, but there’s a limit. We might as well be discussing whether the Nats should think about tearing down the parking garages and replacing them with storage areas for our collapsible electric-powered hovercars.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 9:38 AM

      +1.

      Also, being Nats fans, we would need to discuss how it is Peter Angelo’s fault that we didn’t get those hovercars sooner.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:01 AM

      +2

      Won’t need parking garages, since self-driving cars will pick us up and drop us off!

    • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:35 AM

      We might as well be discussing whether the Nats should think about tearing down the parking garages and replacing them with storage areas for our collapsible electric-powered hovercars.

      But that won’t stop us!

  6. scnatsfan - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    I see Rosenbaum was released by the RedSox

  7. nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    This is very interesting on Trea Turner

    J.J. Cooper, managing editor of Baseball America:

    “When Trea Turner was coming into the draft last year, some scouts questioned his bat,” Cooper said.

    “His swing is a lot smoother now and you don’t really hear those questions anymore. We saw that again on Sunday as Turner got to show his easy gap power and his excellent speed. He even put one in the second deck in the pregame batting practice to show off his surprising pop.”

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:14 AM

      Do you know when his swing got tweaked? It was from a coach from another team in the Arizona Fall League.

      This new breed of contact hitters the Nats will have in the future infield could be Rendon, Turner and Difo. Add them to Harper and that could be a makings of a good lineup.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:39 AM

        Do you know when his swing got tweaked? It was from a coach from another team in the Arizona Fall League.

        That’s interesting. You don’t happen to know who, by chance?

        But great to see these guys’ dedication to the game, and their jobs, that they coach, because that’s what they are, coaches.

      • scnatsfan - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        Wonder if it was a Padres coach. That would be cool if they continued to help him knowing he was gone.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:04 AM

        I’m fairly certain the AFL was before he was traded. I can’t remember which Coach it was but my recollection is that it wasn’t a Padres coach.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:40 AM

        Just need the protection bat to make that a formidable top-half of the lineup. Will it be RZ?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        Great point. I think the future Nats LF and 1B will be more thump for that 4 and 5 spot in the line-up of Bryce bats 3rd.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:15 PM

        The trade was announced Dec. 19, so it was probably signed off on not long before that. No telling when the idea was first brought up, of course, but it seems possible, maybe likely, that it was after the AFL, which finished in mid-November.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:38 PM

        Thanks for the research Sofa. That’s what I thought.

        I love the players that Rizzo is now targeting and hate to compare to Billy Beane but it seems to be that high OBP player who makes contact with a controlled swing. The difference is the Nats will spend money.

  8. nats128 - Jul 14, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    Speaking of Bryce Harper, SportsBog has stats of his HRs and photos

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2015/07/14/bryce-harpers-home-runs-in-26-photos-and-one-vine/

  9. rayvil01 - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    Oh, Man, there is some serious, serious angst over in Orioles’ Land about Bryce: http://www.camdenchat.com/2015/7/13/8949715/bryce-harper-oriole-park-at-camden-yards

    If bad, ok…really bad language doesn’t bother you, go read the game thread comments from Sunday on that blog site. Wow! If you told Baltimore people they came across as this petulant and stupid they’d be offended. But, there they are doing it on their own.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:44 AM

      Ignorance, hate, jealousy, a shame.

      • Doc - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:11 PM

        The natural emotions of losers. Philadelphia seems to have the same demographics.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:19 PM

        Doc, I would agree with that. It’s a culture and the way they were brought up.

        When you mixed DC with Ball-mer back in the 90’s you had a better demographics mix and now you have that frontrunner entitlement.

    • bowdenball - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:48 AM

      Perhaps he should have hit Wieters in the head on his follow-through and then thrown his bat at Wei-Yin Chen. Apparently that’s the sort of behavior that wins over Orioles fans.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:45 PM

        Bowdenball, Hah, yah. Paredes did go with that long follow thru and hit Ramos on the elbow area. I was hoping it was an accident but given that’s how Machado seemed to purposely concuss Derek Norris last year with 2 hits to his head, I’m not sure.

      • knoxvillenat - Jul 14, 2015 at 7:20 PM

        “Bowdenball, Hah, yah. Paredes did go with that long follow thru and hit Ramos on the elbow area. I was hoping it was an accident but given that’s how Machado seemed to purposely concuss Derek Norris last year with 2 hits to his head, I’m not sure.”

        To be fair to Paredes I do recall reading somewhere over the weekend that he did apologize to Ramos and IIRC, he apologized twice. I wouldn’t put him in Machado’s class just yet.

    • TimDz - Jul 14, 2015 at 11:54 AM

      That wasn’t worth the two minutes taken off of my life to read….

      The part about the Nats trying to “screw” the blow-reos out of millions is particularly funny, given the fact that the agreement states the Nats are to get fair market value for the television rights. Right now, that comes to about 100 to 110 million a year…..

      • therealjohnc - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:30 PM

        That view probably comes from fear more than anything else. The O’s are playing in a division with teams that have a lot more resources than the O’s do – and they’re getting outcompeted by the one team (Tampa) that has fewer resources. The O’s have the possibility of becoming more or less permanently buried in second- or third-class status, particularly when the team is not particularly well run.

        As a DC native and Nats fan I don’t blame Angelos for driving the best bargain he could on the MASN deal. I do think that MLB went too far to placate him, but that’s on MLB/Selig, not Angelos. The existence of the Nats does impact the Orioles. I’m not in the “will never go to OPACY while he owns the team” crowd, although I don’t particularly like him. But a fair minded Orioles fan who wants us to realize that Angelos was just getting the best business deal he could get should also be OK with the Lerner and the Nats using a flaw in the agreement (the reset clause) to get the best deal THEY can get – regardless of whether the reset makes MASN unviable. Like Angelos, the Lerners seem to be in the mindset of “it’s just good business” to maximize their position.

        Personally I wish the arrangement between the teams was more collegial and less adversarial, because I think they could do a world of good for the sport as well as (in the long run) both teams. But that ship has clearly sailed.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        realjohn, on what basis do you call the reset clause a flaw in the contract? It is there because of the perpetual nature of the contract. Do you really think a perpetual contract with no defined renegotiation periods is reasonable? If anything, the fact that the Nats are locked into the contract basically forever is the flaw.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:38 PM

        Glad you mentioned that zmunchkin.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 3:36 PM

        I can’t speak for realjohn, but the reset provision requires that the Nats receive fair market value for their broadcasts.

        That means paying the Nats more, which is good for the Nats but bad for MASN and its majority owners–thus, from their perspective, a flaw.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:16 PM

        The contract stipulates that the same amount be paid to the Orioles. So if the Nats get more, the Os get more. MASN, owned primarily by Angelos does get less.

        So, in fact, the MASN deal unfairly advantages the Os since the Baltimore TV market is not a lucrative as the DC market.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:30 PM

        Two things:

        1. There is some dispute about whether MASN can actually afford to pay both teams the same amount, if it’s set at a level fair to the Nats. Indeed, one theory is that the Nats long-term legal strategy is to use the reset provision to basically bankrupt MASN and bust it up. Which would be ok by me, but again, to MASN and the Os, probably looks like a flaw.

        2. Even if MASN could increase the rights fees and pay the Os and the Nats the same amount, that’s actually a bad thing for the Os. Because the Os own ~80% of MASN, they get 80 cents of every dollar in profit. If that same dollar is paid out in rights fees, the Os get only 50 cents. And because there are differences in how MLB treats different kinds of income, it’s actually worse than that, because the 50 cents in rights fees would factor into the MLB revenue sharing, while income from owning a regional sports network (the 80 cents) do not. So the Os would much prefer to keep the rights fees down and keep MASN’s profits up.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:34 PM

        The Os do not own MASN. Angelos does. And so the lesser rights fees benefits them, for example, when it comes to competitive picks. They got one in the 2015 draft, supposedly due to the small value of their TV deal.

        And I agree that MASN can’t afford to pay both teams the same amount. But whose fault is that? Certainly not the Nats as they were not involved in any of the negotiations for the terms of the contract.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:39 PM

        MASN is jointly owned by the two teams, not by the Nats as a team and Angelos as an individual.

        The point about the competitive draft pick is a good one. Which, again, was exactly my point–there are reasons for the Os to keep the rights fees down.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:41 PM

        Correction, profit from MASN does not go to the Os/Nats based on the split. It goes to Angelos and the Lerners. The ownership details are somewhat muddy because of that.

        But MASN profits does not count in any of MLBs revenue sharing or competitive balance calculations. At least that I what I recall reading in the various articles about the dispute.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:50 PM

        MASN profits does not count in any of MLBs revenue sharing or competitive balance calculations

        Which, again, is exactly what I said above.

        I’d be curious to see a link about the distribution of the profits. It’s now how I understand things from reading Jonah Keri’s piece last year or anything else. But maybe I jut missed it.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 5:04 PM

        Hiram, regardless of the murky details, I think we both agree that the Nats are costing the Os millions of dollars is a silly comment.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 14, 2015 at 5:15 PM

        I used “flaw” in the sense that the MASN contract weighted heavily in favor of the Orioles by design has a mechanism that potentially makes the contract unviable – if market rate rights fees are provided to both of the teams, then the cost far exceeds MASN’s revenue and MASN goes bankrupt. Thus the whole deal falls apart. Even if MASN can only just barely break even that (as Hiram noted earlier) wipes out the O’s advantage in the structure as they O’s pocket an overwhelming percentage of MASN’s leftover profit. If there’s no profit, there’s nothing to pocket. Which would be a flaw (certainly from the O’s perspective!) because the deal fails of its intent to compensate the O’s for the economic impact of having a team in DC.

        I believe (not having been in the room) that this flaw was not realized at the time because the agreement was reached before the fracturing of the entertainment base made live sports programming one of the few oasis of commercial television viable – thus leading directly to the explosion of MLB rights fees through regional sports networks.

        The deal has many other flaws, of course. The lopsided distribution of profits gives the O’s a strong incentive to keep all expenses low and maximize their revenue stream. I believe that this is why the production values (they were slow to make MASN2 available in many locations, and even slower to upgrade it to HD; the studios for their in house programming have the charm and ambiance of a 1970’s news broadcast) and programming on MASN stinks. A more enlightened approach would have been better for the sport and, IMHO, in the long run for the teams as well.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 8:03 PM

        The more complete explanation that it is the entire agreement that is flawed makes sense – and is something I agree with. My interpretation of the original wording was that you were specifically calling out just the reset clause as the flaw. Of course, it is that part of the agreement which surfaces/exposes that the deal itself is not well thought out (i.e., flawed).

        Thanks for the explanation/clarification realjohn.

    • zmunchkin - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:02 PM

      Wow. Talk about obnoxious and clueless – especially the writer’s comment:

      is currently trying to screw the Orioles out of tens of millions of dollars of future television revenue

      which is, I assume, about the MASN deal. What a moronic comment.

      I especially liked the comment that Bryce is a punk, unlike Manny. Uhhh, Bryce never hit an opponent with his bat.

      Thanks for posting this as it just reinforces my decision to never to go to an Orioles game.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:23 PM

        “Bryce never hit an opponent with his bat.”

        On purpose. And then lied about it: ‘The bat slipped out of my hand”

    • therealjohnc - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:20 PM

      Meh. Most O’s fans that I know have no problem with Harper. Put out a topic like that and you’re going to draw the trolls, malcontents and mouth breathers of a fan base. And all fan bases have them, even Nats’ fans. Put out an article about Freddie Freeman*, Brian McCann, Justin Upton, Jonathan Papelbon, or Cole Hamels on a Nats’ fan site and you’d get a bunch of hyperventilating as well. Whether that hyperventilating included offensive language would vary site by site, not fan base by fan base. Even on that thread there were a couple of O’s fans that stood up for Harper.

      To paraphrase one of the O’s fans in the thread, fan = fanatic and an unreasonable hatred of players wearing the wrong laundry is pretty much par for the course.

      *I actually like Freeman – I just wish he would stop crushing the ball every time he sees the Nats.

      • natsjackinfl - Jul 14, 2015 at 1:28 PM

        I’m a Freddie Freeman fan, too. He really is a good guy and an exceptional defensive and offensive all around terrific ballplayer.

        Not real fond of McCann, though.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 1:30 PM

        “Put out an article about Freddie Freeman*, Brian McCann, Justin Upton, Jonathan Papelbon, or Cole Hamels on a Nats’ fan site and you’d get a bunch of hyperventilating as well”

        Cole Hamels plunked Bryce for no reason in Bryce’s rookie season on purpose and we don’t boo him when he comes to DC. If JUp said he didn’t like the darkness at Nats Park we wouldn’t care.

        Who waste their blog space to write about it.

    • ehay2k - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:21 PM

      Note the blogger’s twitter handled is @EatMoreEsskay. I was a bit curious to see what Esskay’s reaction would be to his use of their brand, coupled with his offensive posts, so I asked them about it. 🙂

      Will be interesting to see what happens.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:59 PM

        Oooh, good idea! I look forward to it.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 3:00 PM

        I was a bit curious to see what Esskay’s reaction would be to his use of their brand, coupled with his offensive posts, so I asked them about it.

        My post got dis-located below…

        “Good idea!”

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 12:42 PM

    “Can Max Scherzer be even better in the second half?: Before heading to a much deserved break, Nationals closer… http://t.co/ICS4tFe9ci

    Velo has been down the last 2 starts and I hope they keep Scherzer closer to 200 innings than 220. The season is a marathon and when you add in the postseason it’s a Iron Man competition!!!

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 14, 2015 at 1:57 PM

      Although I agree with you on the innings, it’s interesting to see that Scherzer’s efficiency means he’s actually thrown the 15th most pitches in MLB so far this year, according to Boswell:

      http://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-20150713.html

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:00 PM

        And I just figured out that he’s right, according to Baseball Reference.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:02 PM

        Good point on the pitches but add to that every inning has 8 warm-up pitches. It adds up.

        When the Nats traded for him I was concerned about how non-dominant he was in his only playoff game last year.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 2:26 PM

        I would like to see him used less, and given some rest in Sept (hopefully bc the Nats have the division sewn up). But I don’t see his current pace as a sign for great alarm.

        If he maintains the current pace, Max will throw about the same # of pitches this year as he averaged over the last 5 regular years in Detroit (and about 300 fewer than he threw last year).

        I do take Ghost’s point about the extra warm up pitches, but we’re talking about, what, an average of one more inning per game, or maybe 250 more warm up pitches over the season?

  11. Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 14, 2015 at 3:03 PM

    Oh, I get it. We’re desynchronizing again.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 14, 2015 at 4:31 PM

      Which, I’m guessing, is also how we would do our best swimming.

    • natsfan1a - Jul 14, 2015 at 6:29 PM

      No! I’m holding out for synchronized swimming, and aerial shots of same.

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