Cool as Bryce: Harper primed for anticipated Phillies opener
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper had $330 million in his budget and an inquiring mind as he tossed out questions to his 1.5 million Instagram followers on how to spend his cash in Philadelphia.
“Philly help me out!” he wrote on a post like a typical tourist.
Harper solicited suggestions for best restaurants, things to do, best art and live music — yes, even Pilates places — and local hot spots.
The last one was easy: The hottest spot on Thursday in Philly is Harper’s new home at Citizens Bank Park .
Philly has been amped for Harper’s arrival since he left the Washington Nationals to sign a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies and the 2015 NL MVP has stirred anticipation in town for opening day not felt in years. The Phillies and their various merchandise partners have assuredly seen the Harper merchandise machine start to stuff the coffers. The latest fashion trend in Philly is the wave of various Harper T-shirts, caps and jerseys worn by everyone from die-hards and kids to casual fans and concession workers.
Harper is the 26-year-old New Kid in Town and he’s trying to fit in like any transplant — and he’s hit all the right notes much in the way he hits fastballs.
He posted a black-and-white photo from his first workout in Philly , writing, “how I longed to see the Liberty Bell,” and signing it “(hashtag)Phamily.”
Harper may fit the exuberant mold of former Phillies stars Pete Rose and Jimmy Rollins more than the understated stardom of Mike Schmidt and Chase Utley. Either way, if he hits, he’ll feel at home in Philly.
Harper takes his first swing toward Philly’s first postseason appearance since 2011 in the opener against Julio Teheran and the NL East champion Atlanta Braves. Harper has eight career home runs and reached base 29 times in 51 plate appearances against Teheran.
“I’m just very excited to be in front of a new fan base and see what it’s all about,” Harper said this week. “I walked into the clubhouse and it was open arms from everybody. You never know what you’re going to get. I’ve only played in one clubhouse, I’ve only played on one team. It’s a little nervous as well, walking in there. But from Day 1, it felt right.”
Harper was the centerpiece of a significant offseason for the Phillies. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, starting his second season, may as well have handed the lineup card to Oprah Winfrey: You get an All-Star! And you get an All-Star! And you get an All-Star! The opening day lineup is impressive: Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Odubel Herrera and starter Aaron Nola (17-6, 2.37 ERA) have all made All-Star teams.
After six straight losing seasons, the Phillies (80-82) already were expecting to contend for a postseason berth before adding Harper. Now, they should be a serious challenger for a pennant. They led their division with the second-best record in the NL one week into August before they collapsed and lost 33 of the final 49 games.
Teheran (9-9, 3.94 ERA) once drilled Harper with a fastball to the leg in a 2013 game that saw both the Nationals and Braves benches clear. Harper had homered off Teheran earlier in the game and used a 23.66-second trot that riled up the Braves ace and had him looking for retribution.
Teheran will make his sixth straight opening day start for the Braves, who lost to Dodgers in Division Series. NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. (.293, 26, 64, 16 SBs) gives Atlanta (90-72) an exciting new face of the franchise, joining Freddie Freeman, who remains in his prime after placing fourth in NL MVP voting last season.
Harper may get all the hype.
But he’ll have to wrest the East crown out of Atlanta.
“The East is crazy,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be a fight to the end. A lot of people are talking about everybody else and they forget we won 90 games and got better.”
So did the Phillies, and Harper is ready to prove he can become the MVP candidate in Philly the franchise expected when it signed him to the massive deal.
And it all starts with that first at-bat on opening day.
“When I step into a batter’s box, 45,000 people going crazy, I would love to put a heart-rate monitor on and see what it looks like,” he said. “I enjoy those moments. I enjoy the craziness.”