Bryce Harper's ex-teammates tired of talking about him but thoroughly impressed by Phillies

Bryce Harper's ex-teammates tired of talking about him but thoroughly impressed by Phillies

WASHINGTON — Adam Eaton is sick of hearing about Bryce Harper but eager to see him face Max Scherzer.

Sean Doolittle has spent time game planning for Harper but is focused more on the Phillies' lineup as a whole.

"It's not just him," Doolittle said Tuesday ahead of the Phillies' first meeting of the year with the Nationals. "One thing that I think is lost in this is that we're talking a lot about Bryce, rightfully so, but look at the other guys in that lineup. 

"This is probably the deepest lineup in the league and it was on full display in that first series, the kind of damage they can do and the different ways they can burn you. There are a lot of other guys in this lineup you have to take seriously. There aren't many holes."

Many in Philadelphia have said the same thing in recent days, but it's interesting to hear that opinion from a rival pitcher. Doolittle knows how focused he and his teammates have to be when facing any Phillie one through eight, not just the $330 million man.

The Phillies' rivalry with the Nationals is already intriguing enough given the two rosters, but Harper's 13-year marriage with the Phils kicks things up several notches. If Harper plays out his full contract with the Phils, he'll end his career having played in Philly nearly twice as long as he played in Washington.

Harper said a lot of the right things Tuesday in his return to Nationals Park. He spoke of visiting one of his favorite food spots immediately Monday, talked about good times, referenced the teammates he grew strong bonds with.

He said it all while wearing a shirt that read "Philly" across the chest and a hat that read "Positive Vibes."

The vibes Harper gets in D.C. this week will likely be mixed.

"We're all tired of hearing about it and just excited to get out on the field and play," said Eaton, Harper's former outfield-mate. "I think he's tired of it as well. As much as you think he loves the spotlight, he really doesn't. He loves to crawl in a hole and go play baseball. I think everybody involved just really wants to move on and play for October."

These are two of the deepest rosters in the National League. The Phillies, according to Doolittle and many others, are among the best offenses in the game. The Nationals are still rock solid up and down the lineup and have an edge on every team in baseball with their 1-2-3 of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Harper will get his first taste of Scherzer Tuesday night. He couldn't recall facing him in live batting practice.

Will either of them have an advantage on the other?

"Intel, yeah, you know what, a little bit," Eaton said. "You play behind pitchers enough, especially as a centerfielder, you see how their pitches move, the shape, the demeanor, maybe what's coming next. With him and Max, it should be interesting. Max is very predictable but also not very predictable. He always seems like he's one step ahead of the hitter even if he's faced him quite a bit. And he's even evolved since last year with certain pitches he's throwing a little more frequently. 

"It's must-see TV in my opinion."

Will the Nats gain any extra inspiration from facing the former face of their franchise?

Eaton laughed at the question.

"This is a big-league clubhouse," he said. "I want to win, I don't care who's over there. I think everyone would say that. If you're getting up because Bryce Harper's on the other side, we've got a problem. 

"It doesn't matter if your grandma is playing shortstop, we want to win."

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The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

Dave Raymond, the OG Phillie Phanatic, was alarmed when he read the news earlier this week.

No Mascots!

Has Major League Baseball lost its mind?

Or worse, its sense of humor?

Don’t misunderstand, Raymond, the man who breathed life into that big ball of green fur from the time it debuted in 1978 until 1993, is all for ridding the world of this nasty coronavirus beast. He’s all for social distancing, frequent handwashing and everything else that goes with protecting folks from getting sick. He knows how serious this thing is.

And that’s why he’s hoping that MLB won’t follow through on its plan to ban mascots from games when and if the sport comes back with a proposed 82-game schedule in July.

“I understand that only essential personnel can physically be at the games,” Raymond said Friday. “But I would argue that in these serious times mascots are more essential than ever.”

After shedding the Phanatic’s fur and handing the keys to the ATV to the equally brilliant Tom Burgoyne 26 years ago, Raymond dedicated his professional life to the concept of fun. It’s serious business. Raymond has owned and operated companies that help professional teams and college sports programs develop mascots/brands. He has trained mascots and helped found a mascot Hall of Fame. His current focus is motivational speaking. Everything is centered around the Power of Fun — which just so happens to be the title of his book — and how it can make a difference in people’s lives.

In these trying times when lives have been lost, when people have gotten sick and when the world has wrapped a mask around its face and gone into quarantine, Raymond is preaching louder than ever about the importance of a little fun and the respite it can offer in difficult times.

“It’s a scientific fact that laughing helps a person emotionally and physically,” he said.

That’s why he believes mascots need to have their place in baseball’s return.

“Mascots are a reflection of the fans’ heart and soul and part of the reason fans get emotionally connected to their teams,” he said. “During this time, we need the connection they provide more than ever. I understand that fans can’t be in the stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still engage them through mascots and character brands. Baseball needs to be creative and carve out space for entertainment.”

Raymond proposes that mascots be featured on television broadcasts when the game returns. It would be kind of funny to see a camera pan over to the Phanatic sitting all alone in section 305. Maybe even have Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely play in the background.

If the Phanatic absolutely, positively cannot be in the ballpark, then he could be featured through technology and social media. Raymond proposed live streaming the Phanatic, wherever he might be, watching the game. Run it across social media platforms and have fans follow along. Raymond also proposed prerecording videos that could feature fans playing catch with the final throw landing in the Phanatic’s glove as he stands on the field. Another idea: Replace the Phanatic’s middle-of-the-fifth-inning dance skit with a live Zoom call on Phanavision and let fans log in. He’d like to see this stuff in every major league city.

“I understand it’s safety first, but there’s still room to lighten things up a little,” Raymond said.

Raymond is sharing this message with mascots who have been sidelined all over the country, from the major leagues to the minor leagues to the colleges. He has personally tutored many of them. They are his friends. Some have been furloughed from their jobs.

“It’s really devastating,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raymond will host a Zoom webinar for mascots and officials from teams, leagues and colleges that he has worked with over the years. It’s titled What The Heck Should My Mascot Do Now?

For Dave Raymond, the answer is simple:

Follow the rules, but by all means, be creative, embrace technology and mascot on.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II


Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II

On today's Phillies Talk podcast, Jim Salisbury and I discussed what Spring Training II could look like amid Jim's report that the Phillies will likely get to stay home and train in South Philadelphia.

• Benefits of having camp at home.

• Who could Phillies play in Spring Training II?

• What happens to the minor-leaguers? Will there even be a minor-league season?

• Just how big could regular-season rosters get?

• Spencer Howard will likely put pressure on Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.

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