Bryce Harper had already bowed to the crowd on Sunday night when he gloved his final warm-up catch, peered to the upper deck and fired a baseball into one of the highest reaches of Citizens Bank Park for the third straight game. It finally landed — after soaring as if it was shot by the Phanatic’s hot-dog launcher — and was caught by a fan in Section 303.
Harper will return Tuesday to Washington, the city where he spent the first seven seasons of his career. The first chapter in Harper’s new home could have been awkward. But he wasted little time getting comfortable.
He played “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme before spring-training at-bats and tucked Phanatic socks under his uniform pants. He posted an Instagram caption about longing to see the Liberty Bell and added Nick Foles’ sultry nickname for good measure. He slapped “ill” stickers — made out of the Phillies logo — onto the bottom of his bats and wore Phanatic cleats for his first game in Philly. Harper did all of this before he started launching baseballs into the cheap seats.
If there was a perfect way to enter Philadelphia after signing a $330 million contract, Harper may have found it.
“Good energy, excited energy in this city, in theory, can lead to better results,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It doesn’t work that way if you don’t have talent. But given the way that we have a pretty talented club, it’s possible that Bryce sees that connection as helping the Phillies win and making the people in Philadelphia feel good. I think he sees a big picture like that. I think he’s ultra-aware and very intelligent.”
Harper has spent the last five weeks endearing himself to Philadelphia. And Philadelphia has endeared itself to Harper.
He watched his jersey sell at record rates, he played in front of sold-out crowds, and he received standing ovations before his first at-bat. Harper’s first week in Philadelphia has been the perfect introduction. Even the restaurant scene -- Harper said he’s “seven for seven so far” on dining choices -- did not disappoint.
“It makes you want to be so good. It makes you want to be that much better of a ballplayer. It makes you want to work hard, it makes you want to play hard,” Harper said of the Philadelphia fans. “I was doing an interview after the game Saturday and they said, 'What's your biggest thing,' and I said, 'They're blue collar. They come in every single day, they're working hard every week, and that's what we need to do as well.' We're working hard as a team, we're working hard as an organization, and putting all the talent we can on the field to win and to get better. If we can match that intensity in the city with our team, then it's going to make us that much better.”
After homering on Saturday for his first hit, Harper ducked into the tunnel that leads from the dugout to the clubhouse. But the fans were still on their feet. Rhys Hoskins said it was the loudest he has ever heard the ballpark since reaching the majors two years ago. And they weren’t ready to be quiet.
Harper ran from the tunnel, charged up the dugout steps, ripped off his helmet, and pounded his fists in the air as he roared back at the crowd. Harper, Kapler said, “owned the moment.” And it was just the latest moment in Harper’s introduction to his new home.
“That’s how Bryce has owned the entry to Philadelphia,” Kapler said. “He’s connected with people. He’s connected with people in the ballpark. He’s connected with his teammates. He’s connected with the coaching staff. He’s connected with the city. He’s connected with the fans. And he knew that [Saturday] after that home run was a perfect opportunity to further establish that relationship and he did a great job with that.”
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