Bryce Harper trotted out to right field at Citizens Bank Park Tuesday evening, bowed and did his signature double fist pump after hearing heavy cheers from Philadelphia Phillies fans. By the end of the evening, some of those cheers had turned into audible boos.
Harper went 0-4 in the game, striking out twice, as his batting average on the season dropped to .240. Harper took a puzzling route to what should have been a routine fly ball in the top of the eighth. Even once he got in a position to make the catch, he dropped the ball, allowing Detroit Tigers left fielder Niko Goodrum to reach second base.
On Opening Day, Harper was not booed at Citizens Bank Park. Tuesday night, he did hear some boos from Phillies fans. But as his honeymoon in Philadelphia perhaps expires, he holds no ill-will towards any fans that voiced their frustrations with his recent play last night.
“I’d do the same thing,” Harper told the collective media, which included Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, after the game. “It’s not fun to lose, not fun to watch when you’re playing that way. (I was) 0-4 with two punchies. I’m probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout.”
The 26-year-old right fielder’s first month plus in Philadelphia was far from a disaster, even if it didn’t conclude in an ideal way. Harper, a six-time All-Star, hit three home runs in his first four games with the Phillies. One of those home runs came in his return to Nationals Park, his home for the first seven years of his career. He posted the first five-hit game of his career on April 19 in Colorado. And despite his batting average dipping to .240, he has six home runs, 20 RBIs and 23 walks heading into May.
Oh, the 16-13 Phillies are also in first place in a crowded National League East.
Perhaps repeated standing ovations make boos easier to stomach for Harper, but he signed a 13-year/$330 million contract to come to one of the most passionate sports cities in the country. He knew what he was getting himself into. He’ll be treated like a king when he’s hitting home runs and the Phillies are in first place. That won’t stop some fans from voicing their frustration a few weeks later if the play of both the Phillies and Harper dips.
“I’m not going to tell you I’m going to win an MVP every single year,” Harper said to the collective media at his introductory press conference in March. “Is that my goal? Absolutely, I want to do that every single year. But there’s going to be down years, there’s going to be big years, there’s going to be years that are just OK. For a team, for an organization, that’s what we’re going to do — we’re going to go in, we’re going to try to do everything we can to win and play hard and play well. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what I want to do.”
Beyond the enormous pressure facing Harper based solely on the contract he signed, he came to a football-crazed city that hasn’t seen its baseball team reach the postseason since 2011. In 2011, the Phillies magical 102-win regular season came to a screeching halt when they were eliminated in franchise-altering fashion by the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies entered last August in first place in the National League East, having made multiple additions ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. They finished the 2018 season at 80-82, their sixth consecutive losing season. Many Phillies fans already watched baseball with a football mentality. That mentality has only been amplified by a postseason drought that is pushing a decade.
Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, could hit a home run tonight as the Phillies conclude their series with the Tigers and receive a standing ovation. He’ll probably still hear heavy cheers as he trots out to right field. But like any long-term relationship, there will be ups and downs. The anti-Philadelphia portion of the national media will be glad to swarm at any sign of cracks in Harper’s relationship with the city of Philadelphia. But Harper – and the fans that have packed Citizens Bank Park in 2019 – know it’s just the cost of doing business.
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