In Bryce Harper’s first season in Philadelphia, the Phillies jumped out to a 33-22 start before surrendering hold of the NL East lead to the Atlanta Braves in June and eventually falling out of the playoff race by the end of September. It was the Phillies’ best season since entering their lengthy rebuild in 2012 but still fell well short of their preseason expectations.
Despite the team’s shortcomings, Harper arrived at the Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida, on Sunday with nothing but good things to say about his club.
“I feel like I was able to just be Bryce,” Harper told reporters during his first media scrum. “It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people.
“That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. It made me want to work hard in the outfield. It made me want to work hard as a hitter. It made me want to play every single day.”
Bryce Harper arriving today. He says he loved his first year in Philly— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) February 16, 2020
“Dude I loved it. It was unbelievable”
“I feel like I was able to just be Bryce”
“That blue-collar work ethic, made me a better player. It made me want to play every single day”#Phillies ⚾️☀️🌴 pic.twitter.com/R0Vtm0GhIb
Harper’s defensive numbers took a steep dive in 2018, his final season in Washington. Those metrics may have been attributed to Harper playing it safe in the outfield and going for fewer big plays in order to stay healthy ahead of free agency. After accruing -16 defensive runs saved in right field (a career low) with the Nationals in 2018, he picked up nine DRS in right last year (a career best).
His offensive numbers in 2019 would’ve been considered strong by most players’ standards, but for Harper they probably weren’t as high as the Phillies were hoping to get for what they’re paying. He hit 35 home runs with a career-high 114 RBIs but also struck out (178) more than he ever had in a season and failed to make the All-Star team for the first time since 2014.
Were his comments a shot at his former fan base? Only Harper really knows that. He did congratulate his former teammates on winning the World Series without him, though.
“I watched through the whole series and I never have before,” Harper said, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. “I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”
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