Bryce Harper’s relationship with Philadelphia faced perhaps it’s first major test Tuesday night. After an error in right field and an 0-4 performance at the plate, some Phillies fans booed Harper in Monday night’s loss to the Detroit Tigers.
To his credit, Harper, who signed a 13-year/$330 million free-agent contract in early March, didn’t take offense to some boos.
“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.”
One of the reasons that Phillies brass felt Harper would be a better fit for the city than, say, Manny Machado, is because even though he grew up on the West Coast, he plays with an East Coast type passion. As high of a standard as fans may hold Harper to, he holds himself to an even higher standard. If that sounds familiar, it’s because many of those same character traits could be assigned to Phillies franchise icon Chase Utley.
Wednesday morning, Utley, who competed against Harper from 2012-2018, was very complimentary of the six-time All-Star and his chances to succeed in Philadelphia.
“Listen, Bryce is a hard-nosed player,” Utley told Boomer Esiason and Greg Giannotti on WFAN Sports Radio in New York. “All the games we played against him, he played really hard. And there’s one place you need to do that – that’s in Philadelphia. So far, the fans are really loving what he’s doing. Obviously, he’s very passionate, and a great talent. If that continues, I see that relationship going great.”
Utley was a six-time All-Star with the Phillies, and finished second only to future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in fWAR between 2005 and 2012. And yet, the most beloved characteristic about Utley – something that also made Brian Dawkins the most beloved Eagle of all-time – is that he always seemed to be playing at a level even higher than 110 percent. Utley also mixed in an extremely high baseball IQ, as evidenced by the two most iconic plays of his Phillies career:
Hoping to leave Philadelphia more beloved than Utley would probably be an exercise in futility for Harper. But overall, the 26-year-old made a strong impression in his first month plus as a Phillie.
While Harper’s first full month in Philadelphia may have ended with some boos and an average below .250, it’s hard to call his first month in red pinstripes unsuccessful. From bowing in the outfield to making friends with the Phillie Phanatic, Harper went out of his way to embrace his new city. He also hit three home runs in his first four games in Philadelphia, including turning heel in his return to Nationals Park, the place he called home for the first seven years of his major league career. In total, Harper finished April with six home runs, 18 RBIs, 19 walks and an .802 OPS.
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