'That resonates with the fan base': How blue-collar Bryce Harper became beloved in Philadelphia - Patabook Sports (2024)

  • 'That resonates with the fan base': How blue-collar Bryce Harper became beloved in Philadelphia - Patabook Sports (1)

    Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff WriterMay 3, 2024, 07:00 AM ET


      Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.

BRYCE HARPER’S DAILY routine is no different than many Philadelphia sports fans. On his drive into the city from his home in the suburb of Haddonfield, New Jersey, he listens to local sports talk radio. Often, he walks into Citizens Bank Park wearing gear of a Philadelphia sports team. Then Harper changes into his uniform, rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.

Harper gets a thrill from hearing the passion that fans in his sports-crazed city have for their teams — especially because it’s a passion he shares with them.

“People that call into the radio, they love it. They love us. I love listening to it. I think it’s hilarious. I enjoy listening about all the other sports in town. I love cheering on the Eagles. I love cheering on the Sixers and Flyers,” Harper said. “

“We all know what it’s like to play here and so we all cheer for each other and understand each other. When the city rallies around a team and all the players, it’s just so much fun to see.”

Harper began endearing himself to a fan base known for its rough edges from the moment he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract before the 2019 season. He famously overruled agent Scott Boras’ insistence to include an opt-out, wanting to show loyalty to the place he planned to spend the rest of his career. He also turned down an opportunity to don No. 34 — his number with the Washington Nationals — declaring that Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay “should be the last to wear it.” When he bemoaned the price of beer at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia knew it had found one of its own.

“Bryce is really good at saying the right thing and I don’t think it’s B.S.,” longtime Phillies first baseman and current team broadcaster John Kruk told ESPN recently. “He means it. From Day 1, when he signed that contract and he didn’t ask for that opt-out, that meant a lot to the fans.”

Fast forward five years and Harper is even more beloved in Philly. Sure, winning an MVP award in 2021 helped that cause. So did leading the Phillies to the World Series the following year and returning to the National League Championship series in October. But it’s not just the awards and playoff victories that have strengthened his bond with the city.

“I came from Southern California, having no idea what the East Coast was like, let alone Philadelphia,” Chase Utley, another Philly great, said in a phone conversation. “It takes a certain type of personality to succeed and thrive in the Philadelphia sports world. Bryce had it right away.

“He brings you into his game with his talent and grit. That resonates with the fan base.”

The adoration of an East Coast city that prides itself on blue-collar toughness might not be what you’d expect for a superstar who grew up 2,500 miles away, among the glittering lights of Las Vegas. But Harper has always been as much South Philly as Vegas Strip.

“I kind of always thought the city suited him and it was only a matter of time before he got here,” said Trea Turner, who was also Harper’s teammate in D.C. “Bryce is Philadelphia now.”

HARPER WANTS YOU to know at least one thing about Las Vegas: It’s not all about the Strip. There are neighborhoods and locals and working class people all over — just not necessarily where tourists go. It’s more blue-collar than many think.

“You have to be a hard-working town when you’re building all those casinos,” he said.

Harper’s father, Ron, is an iron worker who did local construction for 30 years; his extended family all worked “blue-collar jobs” as well. Harper’s work ethic was honed early in life, in part by laying rebar with his dad.

He took that mindset onto the field with him, quickly outpacing ballplayers his age and playing against players four or five years older on Las Vegas’ best travel teams. At 16, he decided to leave high school, earn his GED and enroll at the College of Southern Nevada. He continued to dominate there, winning college baseball’s Golden Spikes Award, an honor that’s been given to a junior college player just twice in nearly a half-century, in 2010.

All the early morning runs, the workouts in the gym and his dominance on the field paid off that same year when Harper was selected first overall by Washington.

“Bryce was the guy. Everybody had their eyes on Bryce,” said Mike Bryant, who coached Harper, Joey Gallo and his own future major league MVP son Kris, in Las Vegas youth leagues. “Just having Bryce around brought eyes on everyone else. He was the guy. No question about it.”

That sort of attitude and expectations also helped prepare him for the kind of scrutiny a superstar faces in Philadelphia.

“He’s been in the spotlight since he was 14,” former Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. “That has a lot to do with it. He’s had pressure on him his whole life. When you come here, you better be able to deal with it. That doesn’t bother him.”

NEVER WAS HARPER’S work ethic more apparent than his months of rehab after his November 2022 Tommy John surgery. The initial timetable had him rejoining the team around the 2023 All-Star break, but he had a different plan. On May 2 — more than two months ahead of schedule — Harper was back, moving to a new position and eventually helping the Phillies to another playoff berth.

“I was calling him a superhero,” fellow Las Vegas product and Phillies infielder Bryson Stott said. “His body heals faster than anyone I think I’ve ever seen.”

Though Harper’s move to first base was initially to protect his still-tender arm, the initial success led the Phillies to make the move permanent this offseason. Harper had enough clout that he could have vetoed the plan and stayed at designated hitter or lobbied for a move back to the outfield.

“That’s the first thing our infield coach, Bobby Dickerson, said to me: ‘If you’re all-in, we’re going to do this. If you’re not, we’re not going to,'” Harper recalled. “From that point on, I told him, ‘Whatever you want to do.’

“I love being coached.”

The undertaking meant Harper would need to spend hours this spring learning the nuances of a new position, often putting in extra time before batting practice taking ground balls. His teammates and coaches saw the former MVP attack his new challenge like a rookie trying to make the roster.

“We spent at least 20 minutes a day on our half field. We did all the skill parts of playing the position,” Dickerson said. “Then I did a little verbal test with him every few days, like, ‘Runner on first, double down the right-field line. Where do you go?’ I would hit him with that a good bit.”

“It’s been an amazing transformation to watch, actually. You spend your whole career doing different things in the outfield, then in the major leagues [you] learn to play first base.”

The results so far tell the story. According to ESPN Stats & Information, his range moving to his right has improved since last year and he ranks near the top of the league in outs above average (second) and defensive runs saved (second). Through Wednesday, Harper’s had 251 chances at first base without committing an error.

“It’s still a transition,” Harper said. “I’m still learning where I need to be on the field. When a guy hits a ball down the line or in the gap, you can’t get caught watching paint dry. I sit there sometimes and watch Bryson make a great play and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, I have to cover first base.'”

Stott sees the connection between that work Harper puts in behind the scenes and his Las Vegas roots. Yes, there are bright lights and big paydays but nothing gets done without effort.

“You see the casino executives,” Stott said. “They’re working, but they’re not in the streets building the casinos. You don’t see those people. You don’t see the work [Bryce] put in either.”

NO MATTER HOW hard you work — or how well you perform — there is a reality for all professional athletes in Philadelphia: You will be booed.

Harper was already hearing it from the fans on his first Opening Day as a Phillie, in 2019 — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“On my first day I punched out against Julio Teheran, and I’m walking back to the dugout and they booed me on my first at-bat,” Harper said. “I totally understand and get it.

“When you do stuff wrong they’re going to let you know. As players in this clubhouse, we love that and from an individual standpoint, I love it.”

Harper made it clear that a few boos weren’t going to keep him down — he homered in each of the next three games. Just as important, he answered the tough postgame questions from reporters, starting with that initial 0-for-3 debut.

That culture of accountability has spread through a clubhouse filled with players who have come to join Harper in Philadelphia, a city that is now a destination for big-name free agents. First it was Zack Wheeler signing a $118 million deal before the 2020 season, then sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos signed on the next season. Finally, Turner reunited with Harper by signing a $300 million contract an offseason ago.

Together, they have formed a core beloved in the city as few Philadelphia teams — in any sport — have been before.

“When they have a s— game, [the fans] want to hear it,” Bowa said. “‘Hey, I stunk tonight.’ Schwarber does it. Turner, too. Bryce has had that kind of impact.”

Some around the Phillies credit the bond Harper created for bringing out a softer side of the fan base. Instead of booing Alec Bohm out of town when he was caught mouthing “I f—ing hate this place” after making an error, the fans rallied around their young third baseman. Turner received a similar reaction when he was greeted with a standing ovation — not a round of boos — when he came to the plate in August, in the midst of a prolonged slump in his first season with the Phillies.

“He’s done a good job of showing the other side of Philly,” Turner said. “The coolest part, over the last five years, is to see where it started and where it is now. The whole organization and the fans and all that stuff is in a lot better position.”

Schwarber agreed. “He embraces the way that they think,” he said. “And he’s really public with it. He wants to win it and win it for the city. That’s what you want out of a leader. That’s what makes it exciting to come and play every day.”

Of course, Harper knows Philadelphia is still Philadelphia, and the boos could always come unless one of these seasons ends with him holding up the World Series trophy. Though they’ve come close, a championship has evaded them, and the euphoria of the team’s unexpected 2022 postseason run was replaced by frustration when the team lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series at home in October. Signed through 2031, Harper still has nearly a decade to deliver that ultimate prize to his city.

“You do it for so long that it becomes the goal even more, right?” Harper said. “We have such a great group of guys. All we want to do is win. We don’t care about anything else.

“Philly is a very results-oriented town.”

This article was originally published by Espn.com. Read the original article here.

'That resonates with the fan base': How blue-collar Bryce Harper became beloved in Philadelphia - Patabook Sports (2024)


How did Bryce Harper get to the Phillies? ›

As a free agent during the 2018–19 offseason, he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies, the richest contract in the history of North American sports at the time, until being eclipsed shortly after by Mike Trout. He won his second NL MVP award in 2021 with the Phillies.

Did Bryce Harper have a baby? ›

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper and his wife Kayla welcomed their third child in April. They shared on Instagram Wednesday that her name is Kamryn Ray Harper. Kamryn was born April 22 weighing 6 pounds 11 ounces, according to a post the couple shared on Instagram.

What did Bryce Harper name his son? ›

Does Bryce Harper have a wife? ›

PHILADELPHIA - "3 for 3" That's how Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper announced that he and his wife Kayla Harper are expecting their third child together. The couple announced the exciting news in a joint Instagram post.

Why did Harper choose Philly? ›

“What I love to do is get a player in a place where he can execute well. And he hits fastballs, and the velocity of the NL East fits him. It was really an ideal fit.” Harper has hit 14 home runs at Citizen Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia, the most of any road ballpark in his career.

Why is Bryce Harper famous? ›

Recent News. Bryce Harper (born October 16, 1992, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.) is a superstar Major League Baseball (MLB) player who has won a pair of National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards.

Was Harper pregnant? ›

Harper and his wife, Kayla, announced last month that they were expecting their third child. Harper, 31, is batting . 241 with four home runs and 14 RBIs this season. The two-time MVP is in the midst of a six-game hitting streak.

When did Harper get pregnant? ›

Harper and his wife, Kayla, announced on March 26 that they were expecting their third child. They had a son in August 2019 and a daughter in November 2020. To fill out their 26-man roster in Harper's absence, the Phillies have recalled infielder Kody Clemens from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Did Harper have a baby in real life? ›

Bryce's personal life has been equally eventful. The baseball pro married his high school sweetheart, Kayla, in December 2016, and the couple are parents to two children: son Krew Aron, born in August 2019, and daughter Brooklyn Elizabeth, born in November 2020.

How much does Bryce Harper weigh? ›

Who is the youngest MLB All Star? ›

Dwight Gooden became the youngest All-Star in league history when he was selected as a rookie in 1984 at 19 years old. 24. The oldest pitcher to play in an All-Star Game is Satchel Paige, who threw one inning in 1953 at 47 years old.

How many grand slams does Bryce Harper have? ›

Bryce Harper has smashed 8 grand slams in his career.
Bryce Harper8315

Did Bryce Harper attend college? ›

His short successful college career brought him to the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series. His brother Bryan, who had been his teammate at LVHS, was one of the Southern Nevada Coyote's starting pitchers and Bryce was the catcher; a one-two battery punch.

Does Bryce Harper have tattoos? ›

Bryce Harper is also known because of his spectacular tattoos. In each of his wrists, Harper has a tattoo dedicated to his father and his mother (Pops and Mom).

How many home runs does Bryce Harper have? ›

Bryce Harper has played 13 seasons for the Nationals and Phillies. He has a . 281 batting average, 1,545 hits, 315 home runs, 917 RBIs and 1,017 runs scored. He has won 2 MVP awards, the Rookie of the Year award, 3 Silver Slugger awards and 1 League Championship MVP award.

Did the Phillies introduce Bryce Harper? ›

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper is here, and he is not leaving. He said on Saturday afternoon that he always wanted it that way. Harper put on a Phillies uniform and cap for the first time at Spectrum Field, where the Phillies held a 30-minute news conference announcing his 13-year, $330 million contract.

How did Bryce Harper get to the MLB? ›

Harper's life then turned another corner. The Nats had a less than stellar year in 2009 with a 59-103 season. This afforded them the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft — Bryce Harper. While he previously played as a catcher, he was drafted as an outfielder.

Was Harper drafted by the Phillies? ›

Drafted first overall by Washington in 2010, Harper was 19 when he made his big league debut with the Nationals two years later. He still hasn't won a World Series title and realizes the current Phillies may be his best chance with a core that also includes Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, J.T.

When did Bryce Harper go to MLB? ›

April 28, 2012 — OF Bryce Harper made a memorable MLB debut at Dodger Stadium. In an intense contest, Harper went 1-for-3 with a seventh-inning double off Chad Billingsley and one RBI, which came via a go-ahead sac fly in the ninth inning.

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