CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper doesn’t usually watch the World Series. After seven weeks of spring training and an eight-month season, he prefers to take a break from baseball when teams other than his own are deciding the championship.
Last year, though, it was must-see TV.
"Yeah, I watched. I watched through the whole series," Harper said Sunday after reporting to the Phillies' camp. "And I never have before."
It wasn't just that Harper spent his first seven major-league seasons with the Washington Nationals. He was the bearded face of that franchise, the most recognizable sports star in the nation's capital. With him, the Nats were supposed to win it all. They never got beyond the Division Series in four postseasons.
Then, Harper left for a 13-year, $330 million contract with the rival Phillies, and wouldn't you know it, the Nationals not only reached the World Series but won it in seven games.
Surely it was enough to make Harper, well, if not crazy than insanely jealous.
"Not at all," Harper said. "Individually I'm so happy for so many of those players, [manager] Davey Martinez, of course, and all those guys. I sat there and I was pumped for Trea [Turner] and I was pumped for Stras [Stephen Strasburg], the way he threw the ball, and for [Max] Scherzer and all those guys. I let that be known through text messages and things like that, as well."
Harper hit 35 homers with a .882 OPS in his first year with the Phillies. Predictably, he got booed at Nationals Park, including an ugly episode last September when his wife alleged that fans in right field heckled Harper about his infant son.
It’s difficult to reconcile that the Nationals were more successful without Harper, who averaged 26 homers and a .900 OPS per season with them. But Harper either doesn’t see it that way or hasn’t given it much thought.
Instead, he said he's focused on raising his batting average and on-base percentage from last year's .260 and .372 marks. He wants to draw 100 walks (he had 99 last season) and continue working with outfield coach Paco Figueroa on improving his defense, which was better than advertised in right field last year.
The Phillies added another, albeit lower-profile former Nationals employee, hiring hitting coach Joe Dillon in November. Harper endorsed Dillon's knowledge and techniques and credited him for helping some of those Nationals players who will be receiving World Series rings in a few weeks.
"I like Joe a lot," Harper said. "I think he brings a hard-working mentality. He's going to bring a different perspective for us from the other side of the ball from being in D.C. for two years and seeing all these guys."
The Nationals re-signed Strasburg over the winter, keeping together their aces-filled rotation with Scherzer and lefty Patrick Corbin. But for a second consecutive offseason, they lost a key member of their lineup to free agency after third baseman Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
But Harper knows better than to count out his old team.