CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a day Bryce Harper seemed destined for as far back as when he was wowing the travel-ball circuit with his tape-measure homers as a 14-year-old back home in Las Vegas and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16.
Harper officially became owner of the richest contract in American sports history when the Phillies announced his 13-year, $330 million deal in a sun-splashed news conference at Spectrum Field on Saturday afternoon.
The event capped a week of intense negotiations between the Phillies and Harper. The Phillies had pursued the free-agent slugger for weeks but did not make an official offer until Sunday, after both sides had gathered extensive intel on each other. There was optimism of getting a deal done on Monday. That was followed by uncertainty on Tuesday and pessimism on Wednesday (see story).
Finally, the two sides agreed on Thursday and, "The maestro got his Harp."
That's how agent Scott Boras described Phillies managing partner John Middleton's pursuit of the 26-year-old Harper.
Boras has always had a way with words, not to mention negotiations. Back in November, he launched "Harper's Bazaar" and this week it all landed in Philadelphia. Not San Francisco. Not Los Angeles. Not back in Washington. Harper wanted to get paid, as they say, but he also wanted something else: To stay in one place for a good, long time. His wife, Kayla, seconded that. In addition to a record amount of cash — stupid money, some might say — he gets that opportunity for 13 years in Philadelphia.
"Beyond the money, years were important to me, being able to put down some roots and grow a family," Harper said. "At the end of this, I could have a couple of kids and they could be able to say they're from Philly."
Harper plays with a grimace, a scowl and a competitive sneer. There was none of that Saturday. He smiled easily — yeah, we know, you'd smile, too, if … — and was very articulate in saying the type of things that Philadelphia fans will like to hear.
He called J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies' new catcher, his favorite player in baseball.
He pushed the bounds of tampering by openly wishing that a certain player from Millville, New Jersey, might become a Phillie in two years.
He said he did not want one of those famous opt-out clauses that his man, Boras, invented years ago because he's committed to being a Phillie and winning in Philadelphia.
"For me, it's all about winning," he said. "That's what you're remembered for."
He said he was eager to hang with the Phanatic. He said Gritty was "ugly." (Don't worry, orange fella, that was a compliment. We think.)
With his parents seated a few feet away, he talked about his upbringing.
"I come from a blue-collar family," Harper said. "My dad woke up at 3 in the morning to tie rebar every single day in 130-degree heat in Vegas. That's where I get my work ethic. That's what I want to do every single day. I want to work hard. I want to work out. I want to do the things I can to prolong my career and to play for a very long time and be successful for a very long time."
He has already consulted Tom Brady — several times — about the keys to playing (and producing) into his 40s.
As of nightfall Saturday, the Phillies had sold more than 220,000 tickets since reaching the agreement with Harper on Thursday.
But Middleton does not look at Harper as a marketing tool. (And neither does GM Matt Klentak, who has had a great winter in adding two former MVPs in Harper and Andrew McCutchen, a hits machine shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher in baseball in Realmuto.) The rebuild is over. It's time to get Middleton's bleeping trophy back.
Middleton told Boras as much in a meeting last month.
"I said, 'Scott, I want to tell you something: I'm not interested in talking about marketing dollars, tickets sold, billboards, concessions,'" Middleton said in a conversation with reporters moments after the news conference. "I said, 'There's only one reason I'm talking to you, and that's because I believe this guy can help us win, and that's all I care about.' I said, 'I've made enough money in my life. I don't need to make more.' I said, 'My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don't need it to rise more. If it does, fine. I'm here to win. And I think your guy can help me win, and that's all I want to talk about.'
"In Philadelphia, you put a winning product on the field, they are behind you 1,000 percent. That's all I care about. And frankly, all I really care about is getting that trophy — I can't say the real word — but that trophy."
Harper said his goal was to do just that.
He will strive to reach that goal wearing No. 3. He made his name in No. 34, but that's headed for the rafters in honor of Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.
"Roy Halladay should be the last Phillie to wear No. 34," Harper said in the very ballpark where the pitcher was remembered in a moving memorial service 15 months ago.
Harper chose No. 3 because it was the number his dad and brother wore in high school.
The fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park should get ready to see a lot of that number over the next 13 seasons.
It all starts March 28, opening day.
"I'm excited for that 1:05 against the Braves," Bryce Harper said with a smile.
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