From the 'Chosen One' to London: Harper reflects on career, postseason heroics

June 6th, 2024

Bryce Harper’s Phillies teammates call him The Showman.

It is a well-earned moniker for one of Major League Baseball’s brightest superstars. Harper has been in the spotlight since Sports Illustrated put him on its June 8, 2009, cover as a 16-year-old. The headline: "Baseball's Chosen One."

The Nationals made him the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was voted National League Rookie of the Year and made his first All-Star team in '12. Three years later, he won his first NL MVP Award. He signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in '19. At the time, it was the largest guaranteed contract in North American sports history.

He has been worth every penny. Harper won the NL MVP again in 2021. Then he had one of the most iconic moments in Philadelphia sports history. He hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning which proved to be the game-winner in Game 5 of the 2022 NL Championship Series, sending the Phillies to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

Now, the Vegas native is ready to try his luck in London.

How do you feel about playing in London?

I’ve played overseas with Team USA, but never in Europe. I think everybody is excited to go over there, and I think everybody over there gets so excited to see baseball. We were just talking about it. We think it’d be cool to even get four teams to go over there and play a round robin. It’d be cool to extend it to try to grow the game even more.

European football fans are known for being loud, crazy and fun. The postseason crowd in Philadelphia has a similar reputation. Do you think Citizens Bank Park might be comparable to those European football crowds?

Yeah, I think a lot of football fans would come to Citizens Bank Park in the postseason and be pumped about that. It’s a different animal, just like European football is a different animal. I think one thing about European football is that they all have songs. They all sing, and I think that’s really cool.

What has it been like to play in Philadelphia?

It’s like Franny [Phillies broadcaster Scott Franzke] said: It’s bedlam. I think a lot of players who watched on TV, they could hear the environment, the buzz. They could feel it from afar. Then you get there and it’s a different animal. The electricity in the building -- I’ve never seen, heard or felt anything like it, and I’ve been to big-time football and basketball games. It’s incredible.

When you hit that home run in Game 5 of the 2022 NLCS, could you hear the crowd as you rounded the bases?

It’s more just a buzz. It’s a deafening tone. It’s so loud that it’s not, you know what I’m saying?

There might be fans in London watching baseball for the first time. They might not understand how difficult it is to hit a baseball, but world-class athletes like Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders have said it is the most difficult thing they’ve done. Can you explain how difficult it is to hit?

It’s just a tough game. Each sport has its differences, so you never want to take away from anybody’s sport, but if Jordan and Sanders both say it, then I’ll agree. Those guys have done it at the highest level in each of their sports. They did it at the highest level here, too. Bo Jackson and Dave Winfield would probably say the same thing. They both played multiple sports. As the game has grown, I face a lefty throwing 92-94 mph at my face, or a two-percent changeup guy who breaks off a 3-2 changeup. I’m just like, 'OK, I guess I’ll put that in the back of my mind for next time.'

Mascots are also novel for European sports. You’re a Phanatic fan. Explain your affinity for him.

I don’t think there’s anything like him. When you think of the Phillies, you think of the players and things like that. But everybody knows the Phanatic is the Phanatic. You celebrate him like he’s a player. It’s true. I feel like it is. Fans love him. People love him. He’s always in the most random photos and places. "Hey, the Phanatic’s here." Even as an opposing player, I loved him. Just the way he interacted with the teams, players and fans. I always thought it was really cool. Then when I came over here, the affection grew. You just see him on a daily basis how he makes fans light up with the skits he does. He brings fun into the game.