'Bummed' Harper enjoying Classic from afar

Sidelined by Tommy John surgery, 2-time MVP supporting teammates in tournament

March 14th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- comes to BayCare Ballpark every morning for his rehab work. Every other day, he takes a few swings off a practice tee. It is not very exciting.

But at night, he watches Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

“I’m definitely bummed out. I wish I was there,” Harper said this week. “I wish I was representing our country. Playing for Team USA at 16 and 18 [years old], there’s nothing like having ‘USA’ across your chest. You’re playing for something much bigger than yourself. It’s such a fun experience to play with the best of the best. They’re some of the best players in baseball the sport has ever seen. It would have been a lot of fun.”

Team USA is 2-1 in Pool C, beating Canada on Monday and Great Britain on Saturday, while losing to Mexico on Sunday. The club will advance to the quarterfinals with a victory Wednesday against Colombia.

Harper, who is recovering from undergoing Tommy John surgery in November, was one of the first players to commit to Team USA last August. He knew he would love the experience because he loved it before. He was a member of USA Baseball’s 2009 U18 team that went 8-0 to win the COPABE Pan American "AAA" Championship in Venezuela. That team included Harper, Nick Castellanos, Manny Machado, Tony Walters, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray and Jameson Taillon.

Harper also played for USA baseball’s U16 team in 2008.

“[Mike] Trout texted me immediately after he signed up to do it,” Harper said. “He said, ‘Hey, do you want to do it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We talked about it for a while, all of us getting together and all of us doing it -- just because not all of us had actually done it together yet. For us to put the game’s best together, that was kind of the dream.”

That group included Phillies teammates J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner, all of whom are on Team USA.

“We talked about it, how we wanted to play, even before we were asked,” Realmuto said about his early conversations with Harper. “It’s been something both of us have wanted to do for a while.”

Schwarber hit a big home run in a victory over Great Britain. Realmuto is 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs in two games. Turner is 2-for-8 with a homer and two RBIs.

“To play Mexico in Phoenix where the atmosphere is slammin’, then if you get to the next round and you’re in Miami playing against the Dominican, Venezuela and Puerto Rico -- oh my God,” Harper said. “That’s what international baseball is all about.”

So Harper will be watching. At the very least, it will break up the monotony of the rehab and tee work.

“It’s going well,” Harper said. “It feels the same as dry swings. It’s very similar to that. But it’s a good progression. I’m good with it.”

The good news is that Harper is only 30. He will be 33 for the next Classic.

“I’m hoping in three years I’m still kind of cool, so I can do it,” he said.