|Honeymooning with Harper|
Here we are, April 3rd. I can barely breathe I’m so far up to my neck in tax returns but I felt it necessary to waste some time for a discussion on what every one is talking about. Bryce Harper and the Phillies. Today’s loss was more exciting than any game in the past five years. Harper has brought an electricity to the team, the city, and the fan base so quickly I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like it.
The season is less than week old and Harper and his team, it is his team I’d say, have already provided such instant gratification that you would not believe a Hollywood script written like this about the first 5 games of a baseball season.
Regardless of whether this hot start propels the Phils on to a great season and beyond, the Harper signing has already been justified. There is an effect happening with Bryce Harper that only a player of his stature could conjure in a sport that more than a few people in this town had written off as an also ran since Chase Utley stopped being the best player in it. Harper has immediately captivated the city by embracing it with a vigor you are used to seeing from someone like Brian Dawkins or Allen Iverson.
Since the signing and my post that hinted that Harper is a different person than we may have believed him to be when he played for the Nationals; I have seen him do nothing but double down on that sentiment. He has continually stated how he wants to set roots in this city (He and his wife Kayla put a birth announcement on instagram in front of the Ben Franklin Bridge!) and his embracing of the fans is refreshing for a sport that’s average age viewer does not know how to save it as a PDF. It feels like every interaction the cameras catch him having appears to be positive. He bows to the crowds thanking them for their enthusiasm. He's shooting bow and arrows after home runs with Maikel Franco, so Franco. He's waving "Hi!" to Odoobs from the dugout after Odoobs doubles (Odubel doubled 3 times Monday night). He appears to have a different handshake with just about every teammate like he's Lebron James forcing something in Cleveland except it's here and it's us so it's cool. Ask John Middleton if he thinks all of this stuff is good?
The opening weekend series in Philadelphia could not have gone any better for Gabe Kapler’s crew. Harper did not join in on the offense party that was the 10-4 opening day victory but the holdovers in the lineup from last year certainly did. Maikel Franco homered and Rhys Hoskins hit a grand slam following a Harper intentional walk. This game gave us a glimpse of what we know this offense should be capable of. Hell Franco was the best hitter on the team last year and he’s been crushing the ball in the 8 hole through 5 games. Oh, and Andrew McCutchen led off the season with a home run.
The crowds have showed Harper love normally reserved for a guy who just cured their kid’s cancer. The guy will do some wrong in 13 years but believe me when I tell you he can’t do anything wrong right now for this fan base.
So hopefully you were watching early Saturday evening when Harper stepped to the plate for the 8th time as a Phillie against none other than former Phillies' first round pick and Philadelphia area native Jessie Biddle. The lefthander missed his spot and Harper unloaded for an upper deck 465 foot blast into the cold early spring night. Pandemonium at the ballpark. I was up out of my seat at my friend’s house celebrating, scaring the shit out of his dogs and in turn my daughters. I didn’t care. Harper just went yard. First of 400 or so as a Phillie.
Move ahead to Sundee night and the home town Philadelphia Phillies are on Sunday Night Baseball for probably the first time since Joe Morgan and Jon Miller had the gig. All eyes are on South Philadelphia as the Phils look to get out the brooms.
Oll Jake Arrieta got the start and it was very Jake Arrieta. That is to say he had control issues but was ultimately effective. Dude walked 6 and only gave up 1 unearned run on a brutal passed ball. Only blemish I’ve seen from JT Realmuto and his hose for an arm by the way. Also, full disclosure I did not know one thing about JT before we got him. Sad! I know. Anyway, couldn’t believe he was a white guy! Jacob Tyler is from Oklahoma. The more you know..
Back to the game. Andrew McCutchen hit his second homer of the early going and the Phils were up 3-1 when Harper led off the 7th with a frozen rope into the bleachers in right that caught ARod off guard in the booth. The fans needed a curtain call and he acknowledged. Electric (boogie woogie woogie?). Phils sweep the division rival Braves to start the season.
Tuesday night in DC was the real theater. The once proud son of the city was returning to the town he spurned despite being offered $300 million. Bob Costas and John Smoltz were in to broadcast the game nationally for MLB Network. The DC mayor tweeted and deleted a depiction of Harper as Benedict Arnold earlier in the day. The front row of a section in right field featured 7 guys wearing shirts that spelled out T R A I T O R. The Nats played a video tribute to him prior to the game that was showered with boos. When introduced to bat in the first he received a welcome of boos that would have made the hearty Philadelphia fans say, “yeah, that’s not bad.”
None of that mattered. The Phillies and Bryce Harper can hit. It didn’t hurt that Zach Eflin gave up nothin over 5 innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 3 hits and a walk. He was pulled with men on base in the bottom of the 6th for a pinch-hitter and that did not turn out to haunt old Gabe. Harper and his team made sure of it. In that same bottom of the 6th Jean Segura shot a bases clearing 3 run double down the right field line to give the Phils some breathing room. Harper came up next and singled away from the shift to score Segura and pad the lead even more for the Phillies who were playing their second straight game on national television. They probably had two all of last year.
For the piece de resistance Harper made staying up til 11 to continue watching a game that was delayed at the start more than worth it. You could almost say this one was a carbon copy of the titanic upper deck bomb he hit Saturday night for his first of the season. This one, his third in four games, reached the upper deck and sailed right over about 1,000 or so crazed Phillies fans who had made the trip to DC and conspicuously congregated their seating in right field. Pandemonium in right field. Harper took a brief look at the majestic blast, took a few steps, and sent a sideways helicopter bat flip high into the air as he began his trip around the bases.
The Phils are back.