CHICAGO - Bryce Harper, just as he is forced to do in every ballpark the Phillies travel to, had listened for six innings on Tuesday night as the fans at Wrigley Field booed his every move.
The final out of the sixth inning dropped into his glove and the fans booed. Harper had a chance to strike back. He held the baseball in his hand and looked to the hecklers in the right-field bleachers, acting as if he was readying to toss them a souvenir.
Harper instead fired the baseball over their heads, clearing the 20 rows of bleachers and sending the ball onto one of the Wrigleyville rooftops across Sheffield Avenue.
“I was just throwing it over the bleacher. Hopefully I didn’t hit a cop or something down below,” Harper said. “I didn’t even see where it went. I just threw it. Acting like we had a third deck in Philly. It’s all fun.”
The opposing team’s fans love to boo Harper, and Harper loves to poke them. He expects to be booed in every ballpark.
It’s been like that for some time. Harper was booed for years in Philly with the Nationals and he has been booed on each road trip during his first two months with the Phillies.
It’s all part of it, Harper said. Even the fans in Denver booed him.
“They were really nice last year because they wanted me,” Harper said of the fans at Wrigley Field. “You know? They were nice to me, but now they’re back to not.”
Harper begins each game in South Philly with a bow to the fans in right field. He throws baseballs to the 300 level. He pumps his fists, ditches his helmet when running the bases, and plays with passion.
Harper has seemed to be defined in his first two months with the Phillies by the energy he regularly shows on the field.
So it was not a surprise to see him interact with the fans in the bleachers after they had been riding him all night.
“Everyone is usually pretty mean. There’s some mean stuff,” Harper said. “You have your fans. Some people take it over the line and some people just yell the same stuff. It’s usually the same stuff. No one really comes up with anything that clever.”
Harper is not only one of baseball’s biggest stars, but he’s a showman, seeming to revel in the theater of the game. The field is his stage. But away from it, he is quiet and reserved, seeming to flip the switch from the persona he displays during games.
“I think there has to be a switch,” Harper said. “There’s four hours where you’re in that mode of playing baseball and you’re intense. You understand that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself and really understand that you’re playing a game and you’re trying to win. Fans are going to be fans and people are going to be people, but you just have to go out there and do your thing.
"Once you’re off the field, there’s a lot of things that are bigger than baseball. That’s family and things like that, real world stuff. But those four hours in between the lines, I don’t think about anything else.”
Harper’s fake-out Tuesday night was not the first time he tried to put one over on the fans. He has done similar pranks in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. A fake throw, Harper said, is his way of answering the hecklers instead of saying anything to them.
But the prank failed him once when the Nationals were in L.A. for a playoff series against the Dodgers.
“I turned around to throw it, but I didn’t,” Harper said. “And then I saw this little girl who was a Dodger fan with a Dodgers hat on. I thought she was the cutest. I was like ‘Aww, man.’ So I ran down the line and gave her the ball. Everyone started going nuts because I did that.