The Phillies played an intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon and J.T. Realmuto wasted no time getting his team on the scoreboard.
The All-Star catcher smacked a two-run, opposite-field home run against Cole Irvin in the top of the first inning. We caught it on video from the press box, but we missed a very noteworthy punctuation mark. (Chris Smith, our ace camera man, did not miss it. Check it out here.)
Bryce Harper, who had walked, was on first base for Realmuto’s homer.
As Harper crossed home plate and walked back to the dugout, he shouted, “Sign him!” It was a clear reference to Realmuto’s ongoing negotiations with the Phillies. Realmuto can be a free agent in the fall.
Harper has lately worn a T-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number on the back. Harper denied trying to send any messages to management by wearing the shirt.
But there was no denying that his reaction to Realmuto’s homer in Wednesday’s intrasquad games was indeed a message.
The game only lasted 2 ½ innings. Didi Gregorius highlighted the event with a grand slam to right against lefty JoJo Romero.
It was certainly a different kind of experience watching a game, even a scrimmage, in an empty 44,000-seat ballpark. From the press box, you could hear the infielders talk to each other. You also could hear Andrew McCutchen shout, “Play Ball!” from left field. McCutchen was even heard singing Harper’s walk-up music.
And then, of course, there was Harper’s little message.
When the real games start on July 24, still with no fans in the stands, television viewers will probably hear more of these organic ballpark sounds. Players are going to have to watch what they say, especially in moments of frustration.
“They’ll hear things, good, bad, mostly fun,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “Probably some things that shouldn’t be said on TV. It’ll be an adjustment.”
The biggest adjustment, Hoskins said, will be cutting out spitting. That’s one of the health protocols issued by MLB to stop the potential spread of COVID-19.
“Spitting, especially on a baseball field,” Hoskins said. “Gum, seeds, it’s just a habit we all have. I was talking with Kyle Garlick and he was saying we just have to train ourselves not to spit.”
Even with the adjustments that he will have to make, Hoskins believes everything will fall into place when the real games start.
“Playing in an empty stadium is weird in itself,” he said. “But once opening day hits, the competitiveness will take over and it will be business as usual.”
The Phillies will play another intrasquad game on Thursday. It will last six innings, according to manager Joe Girardi. Zack Wheeler, the team's big offseason pickup, and Vince Velasquez are among the pitchers who will get some work.