It’s inevitable. Any time a superstar in any sport becomes available and Philadelphia is a potential destination, at some point the national talking point transitions to, “Does he really want to go to Philly and deal with that fan base?”
As we all know, Philly is a tough town for an athlete when he’s not performing. The reception to Rhys Hoskins in the second half of 2019 is a good example. The fanbase had fallen in love with the guy two summers earlier, looked at him as a building block heading into 2018 and 2019, but when he was in the midst of a prolonged slump, down rained the boos, and calls for Hoskins to be benched (or later traded) got louder.
It’s like this in many sports cities. Perform, say the right things and you’ll be well-received. Don’t perform and you won’t.
Bryce Harper had a smooth first year in Philadelphia because he said all the right things before the 2019 season began and then went out and had a strong season. He hit 35 homers, walked 99 times and drove in a career-high 114 runs. He also had the best defensive year of his career and played hard every night, giving up his body in the field and turning singles into hustle-doubles.
Harper talked about that first year in front of Philly fans as a guest on the 94WIP Morning Show in Clearwater Thursday.
“Going through free agency, a lot of people are scared to play in Philly because they hear about the fan base or hear about the city, but I wasn’t,” Harper said. “I was so excited. I played there as a visitor my first seven or eight years in the big leagues and I loved every minute going in there. Every time I went [to] Citizens Bank I was excited to go in there and play.
“Every single time I went out there, they held me accountable – 0-for-4 (or) 4-for-4. But also, they were there for me as well. It’s not like they just hammered me, hammered me, hammered me. … If I did go 0-for-4, of course I had a couple boos, but they were there for me as well. And they were pulling for me and doing everything they could to help, it’s a lot of fun.
“You look at the fan base, they love the Eagles, they love the Flyers, they love the Sixers and that’s the Phillies as well. We have a great fan base and I’m very excited to be a part of this for a long time.”
Harper will be here for a long, long time. He is only about 9 percent of the way through his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. Aaron Nola will be a 38-year-old man by the time Harper’s contract expires. Joe Girardi will be approaching his 70th birthday.
Harper also discussed feeling more comfortable than he did at this point last year when there was still some uncertainty with where he’d live in Clearwater and where he’d live in Philly. Those concerns are gone this year and he can just focus on baseball.
On Wednesday, Harper hit his first two home runs of the spring, a first-inning two-run shot to right field and another two-run homer to left-center in the fourth inning. He said the first one felt good but the second one felt really good. It’s cliché but almost always accurate to say that when a left-handed hitter is hitting for power to left-center, he’s locked in.
Even when Harper isn’t locked in, though, he plays with a sort of reckless abandon that quickly made these fans fall in love. Previous manager Gabe Kapler said several times throughout the 2019 season that Harper plays harder than any superstar he’s ever seen.
“My dad and my family always held me accountable growing up, they always wanted me to work hard and do everything I could to be a good person, a good baseball player and that’s what I want to do for this city,” Harper told Angelo Cataldi and co. “I want to go out there and be the best baseball player I can be each night and I want to run hard, I want to play hard, and I want to run through a wall for this city.”