Bryce Harper inspires Phillies as he returns from injury and switches to first base
PHILADELPHIA – Not long ago, veteran leadership in Philadelphia spelled a setback Bryce Harper rear. Nowadays it means following his example. In his fifth season with the Philliesthe two-time MVP has turned the overwhelming hype that surrounded him as a teenager into universal respect.
Below a smashing performance in the Phillies’ World Series run And an almost superhuman return from Tommy John’s surgery, Harper spelled out a truth that has been around for some time. Gone is the projected caricature of him as a hotshot, the one Cole Hamels once purposely dropped due to the rigidity of unspoken norms. Here at the Phillies clubhouse, a superstar sets a positive example by devoting himself to improving the team. (And yes, Harper and Hamels buried that hatchet when the former signed with the Phillies.)
Harper’s quick return from elbow surgery in an unprecedented 159 days was already impressive, but younger teammates particularly note his willingness to learn first base. Still restricted to the designated hitter for now, Harper takes grounders and practices infield shots so when he hits his next level of clearance he can fill a need at the cold corner that opened up when both happened Rhys Hoskins And Darick Hall fell to the ground with long-term injuries.
Having Harper step in first would certainly help fill a gap for the Phillies, who have once again gotten off to a slower-than-desired start, sitting around .500, after the cathartic run in October of last season. That’s one of the reasons Harper might initially have positive repercussions as a young shortstop Bryson Stott pointed out. It would reopen the designated batsman’s court to help other veterans Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos And JT Realmuto Stay in the lineup with more calm.
“I think you can always look at a superstar doing that,” Stott said, “that’s the question: why am I complaining about something when he’s over here, one of the best players in the game changing things up ?
Positional flexibility has been in fashion in MLB for a while, but it still causes a stir when stars at Harper’s level make moves — such as Freddy Freeman‘S short foray at third base or Mookie Betts‘, who tries his hand at shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that case, Harper volunteered and pitched the idea to Dave Dombrowski, president of the team’s baseball department, and manager Rob Thomson after Hoskins fell while he was still in rehab himself.
“When that happened, I was like, ‘Okay, it’s kind of like a revolving door over there right now,'” Harper said, citing his desire to help the 26-year-old “big third baseman.” Alec Boehmwho often moved to first place returns to his usual position.
“He’s a guy who’s been in baseball for a very long time – he’s seen a lot of things in his life,” Phillies batting coach Kevin Long said of Harper.
Before the Washington Nationals Harper was drafted overall for the first time in 2010 and played catcher and third base. The Nats moved him to outfield to speed his path to the majors. Harper, now 30, has spent more than a third of his life there.
He approaches this latest challenge like anything else: by constantly working on it and doing as many reps as possible. Stott, a native of Las Vegas, has observed Harper since he was a child, but only recently has he fully grasped the work ethic that goes into Harper’s preparation.
“Throughout high school and college, I knew I needed some kind of routine,” Stott said. “His shot is very good – you almost know what time it is when he does something.”
However, Harper doesn’t think younger players need to emulate him. He wants each teammate to find what works for them, whether they learn it from them or not Trea Turner or Schwarber or Realmuto.
“You never want to change anyone,” Harper said as he works to create change of his own accord. That’s the difference, and it’s consistent with a game-wide shift toward a higher level of individuality—as long as it’s focused on winning—that Harper lived and influenced.
Players can have the same goal but get there in different ways.
“It takes a couple of years to sort of settle down and understand what works for you,” Harper said, “about being yourself and being comfortable about being yourself.”
Harper’s path is effort. By the time he was 19, it might have seemed like he would sneak home and occasionally run into walls at full speed. Now it looks like doing pregame work in addition to batting practice, throwing shots from second base and bagging fungos.
Nobody stares at it anymore. you admire it.
“What he did to come back is just remarkable,” Long said. “I mean he worked hard to be here and to be part of this team. So yeah, he’s a role model not just for our team but for a lot of people in baseball.”