TAMPA — Mournful? No, that isn’t fair. Bryce Harper played it cooler than that.
Not dismissive, though. Not offended by the subject matter.
Realistic, probably. Professional, definitely, while allowing for some sentiments unsaid.
“I know the kind of outfit they have, the way they went out and got [Giancarlo] Stanton in that trade,” the Phillies’ $330 million man said of the Yankees on Wednesday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field, after he went 0-for-2 (plus a catcher’s interference) in his debut here wearing his new uniform. “It was kind of up in the air. Never heard from them.
“But everybody knew that, growing up, I was a huge Yankees fan, of course. But I’m happy with where I’m at. Very excited to start my chapter with the Phillies.”
Maybe he’ll make his way to The Bronx by the time his 13-year commitment to the Phillies has concluded, the same way Stanton and Alex Rodriguez each did three years into their respective, ginormous deals with the Marlins and Rangers, respectively. To think that way, of course, would be toxic for Harper. And in his seven seasons as a National, the 26-year-old displayed an impressive ability to block out the constant noise surrounding him.
The noise began with some hearty boos — as hearty as you’ll find in the Grapefruit League, at least — as Harper stepped to the plate against Masahiro Tanaka in the top of the first inning, then some cheers when he grounded out to Greg Bird at first base.
“You hear them,” he said of the boos. “But I feel like I’ve been hearing them for so long that it’s part of playing the season and the game. Every stadium I go into, I expect to get booed.”
In the bottom of the first, Harper dove in right field, trying and failing to snag Stanton’s flare single. “More like a belly flop than a dive,” Harper suggested, and it would be fair to suggest that the play symbolized the Yankees’ doubts about his defense (though I still think they should have signed him).
He swung and missed at a Tanaka splitter to strike out in the third, and in the fifth, he swung and missed at Adam Ottavino’s first offering, only to connect with Gary Sanchez’s glove and get awarded first base. The Yankees and Phillies wound up with a 5-5 tie.
Harper now is 0-for-3 with three walks and Sanchez’s gift for the spring, accelerating his schedule after not signing with the Phillies until after games began. He intends to be ready for the Phillies’ opener March 28 against the Braves at his new home, Citizens Bank Park.
Harper served as the finishing touch on what appears to be a masterful Phillies offseason — as the Mets’ National League East rivals added Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, former Yankee David Robertson and Jean Segura before finally landing Harper in the record-setting deal. The arrival of his impact can be felt in all sorts of numbers, from the approximately 220,000 tickets the Phillies sold within 72 hours of signing him to the approximately eight extra reporters who attended Gabe Kapler’s pregame media session.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed this camp is the bar has been raised for us. The expectations have gotten higher,” the Phillies’ manager said. “People expect more from us. I think the more media attention you get, and I got to know this a little playing in Boston — every time we came to play the Yankees, for example — it was a heightened sense of importance. It was a lot of adrenaline. And a lot of adrenaline can create focus. And sometimes focus can create elevated play.”
During batting practice, Harper conversed briefly with Reggie Jackson, the Yankees’ Hall of Famer and guest instructor.
“He just told me congratulations,” Harper said. “I was a big fan of Reggie growing up. I’ve seen old highlights of the way he played the game, some of that passion and enthusiasm for the game. It was very cool to be able to talk to him for a second.”
Alas, he gets only a second, rather than 13 years, with Mr. October. He won’t complain publicly. Nor will he deny, however, that the pinstriped dream didn’t quite come true.
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