CLEARWATER, Fla. — There's a mural on the wall outside the Phillies' spring training clubhouse, a giant picture taken a few seconds after Carlos Ruiz and Brad Lidge embraced and the Phillies won the World Series on that magical October night in 2008. Citizens Bank Park is packed to the rafters and the crowd is in a state of euphoria.
Rhys Hoskins was standing near the mural Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the Phillies landed slugging free agent Bryce Harper with the largest deal in American sports history — $330 million.
"You know, everybody talks about this picture behind us," Hoskins said. "There's rally towels waving around, you can't see an empty seat, you can't see anywhere where people can stand. I don't want to hear about it anymore. I want to feel it. So I think we're on our way and I think Bryce gives us a chance to be there."
With that quote, Hoskins captured the mood of an entire franchise Friday morning. The clubhouse buzzed with excitement. The folks in the front office, after walking on eggshells for several days awaiting Harper's decision, had a spring in their step. The phone lines at Spectrum Field, the Phillies' spring home, rang with people looking to buy tickets and back home in Philadelphia it was more of the same — times a thousand.
The Phillies' great run of Jimmy, Chase and Ryan ended on that October 2011 night when Ryan Howard fell to the ground in pain, his ruptured Achilles tendon forever a symbol of a powerful dynasty coming to an end. The Phillies haven't had a winning season since, haven't been back to the playoffs since. They embarked on a long rebuild. There were hirings and firings, a lot of losses and a lot of empty seats as the electricity of 2007 to 2011 vanished.
The electricity is back now. Sure, it will take victories to sustain it because that's what it's always about. But the team's front office and ownership group has ignited the electricity again with an offseason that has seen them land a handful of decorated players — former MVP Andrew McCutchen, hit machine Jean Segura, stud catcher J.T. Realmuto, all-star reliever David Robertson — topped off by the addition of Harper, another former MVP, who at 26, should have more in his future.
"We got a lot better before this offseason," Hoskins said. "Even before this move, there was an excitement and a buzz around camp with the guys we'd previously brought in. But you bring in a guy like this and I think now it becomes, 'We think and we know that we can kind of take the next step from last season to now. This is ours.'
"We're a confident bunch and you add a player like this — it makes everyone else better.
"The whole offseason, the front office and ownership has instilled a lot of confidence in us. Getting a guy like this can put us over the top."
Harper wanted a lengthy deal and a no-trade clause because he does not want to move around. He wants to play until he's 40. He got that long-term deal — 13 years — with the Phillies. He did not request an opt-out clause like so many other free agents these days. He did not want a test drive and an off-ramp. He wants to stay in one place, dig in literally and figuratively, and produce.
"The money and the no-trade are huge," Hoskins said. "But that he specifically asked for the no opt-out — obviously that's a commitment and it's really cool to be a part of the city and on a team where a player like that is committing the bulk of his career to that city. I think that says a lot about his character and the competitor he is and obviously, we're really excited to have him on the team."
Hoskins has the same agent (Scott Boras) as Harper and the two are friends. The Phillies' slugging first baseman learned of his new teammate in a phone call from his new teammate.
"Hey, man, I'm coming," Harper told Hoskins on Thursday afternoon.
Hoskins was thrilled. He'd actually stopped following the drama of where Harper would go a few days earlier.
"Quite honestly, I had lost the energy to follow it," Hoskins said. "I think with everything that came out and all the guesses that were going on, it was pretty apparent that not a lot of people knew what was going on and at that point, it's time for us to get ready for the season and focus on camp to be ready to go."
Harper is expected to travel to Florida for a physical Friday. A news conference will follow Saturday. Then it's a month of preparation and game-on. Harper will be in right field March 28 when the Phillies open the season at home against Atlanta.
Aaron Nola — a budding star in his own right — will be on the mound.
And the electricity will be back.
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