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With Harper on the way, Phillies dreaming big

@RichardJustice
March 2, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Rhys Hoskins pointed to a large photo hanging in a hallway outside the Phillies' clubhouse. It captures everything this Bryce Harper moment is about. Every member of the Phillies has seen it. In it, the 2008 World Series has just ended, and the Phils are beginning a

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Rhys Hoskins pointed to a large photo hanging in a hallway outside the Phillies' clubhouse. It captures everything this Bryce Harper moment is about.

Every member of the Phillies has seen it. In it, the 2008 World Series has just ended, and the Phils are beginning a wild celebration around the pitcher’s mound at Citizens Bank Park. That photo also captures Citizens Bank Park packed and rocking and white towels.

"I don’t want to hear about it anymore," Hoskins said Friday morning. "I want to feel it. I think we’re on our way, and I think Bryce gives us a chance to be there."

The Phillies hope they took a step toward another moment like that one by agreeing to a mammoth 13-year, $330 million deal with Harper. Hoskins, who, like Harper, is represented by agent Scott Boras, received a brief telephone call on Thursday evening.

"Hey, man, I’m on my way," Harper told him.

As the Phils prepare for Harper to slip into his new uniform for the first time, his new teammates began to consider what their reshaped team looks like.

"I think there was an excitement and a buzz around camp with the guys we had previously brought in," Hoskins said. "But you bring in a guy like this, and it becomes we think and we know that we can take the next step from last season to now this is ours. We feel that way. We’re a confident bunch, and like I said, you get to add a player like this, it makes everyone around him better."

"If we stay healthy, we’re going to perform," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "There’s just no way around it. Are we going to have hiccups? Are we going to have lulls in the season? Yes, just like every team does. But the best ones figure out how to shorten that window of struggles. [Our] front office [has shown] they were willing to do the things necessary to get this team to a championship level. Now it’s on us to stay healthy and go out there and perform to our capabilities.

"We have some guys who are veterans that are a little bit older. We have young guys who have only been around for a couple of years like Hoskins, who you’re just having a conversation with him, he seems like he played this game for 10 years. You have so much great character in this clubhouse ...

"[Harper] wants to be a Phillie for the rest of his career, pretty much. I get goosebumps thinking about it. I doubt I’ll play for another 13 years, but I would love to be here for 13 years with him. Just because of the commitment of the Middleton family and the rest of the ownership made, not only to Bryce but to the guys in this clubhouse, to really finalize our team for the season. Is it going to be easy? No. But we have the pieces necessary to get that done and I’m just looking forward to seeing him walk through those doors tomorrow."

No team improved more than the Phillies this offseason after adding added free agent Andrew McCutchen to the outfield and reliever David Robertson to the bullpen and trading for baseball’s best catcher, J.T. Realmuto, and shortstop Jean Segura.

"It’s cool to be on a team where the front office and the owner is spearheading that confidence in us," Hoskins said. "It was more a reiteration of being in a situation where the management is kind of pushing all in. That’s all we can ask for as competitors.

"Throughout this whole offseason, the front office, the coaching staff, they’ve kind of instilled that confidence I’ve talked about. That we can get this done. This is a group that can do a lot of special things."

And now the Phils have Harper, who is 26 years old with a 13-year contract with no opt-outs and a no-trade clause. As infielder Scott Kingery said, "He wants to build a legacy for himself in the city of Philadelphia."

McCutchen was in the clubhouse on Thursday afternoon when his wife relayed the news. His instant reaction?

“Wow, he’s coming here, this is pretty cool,” he said. “We’re all pumped about it. He’s the person that when we’re having a meeting and his name pops up, a couple of pitchers’ heads drop. We all know what he can do. He’s going to bring a lot to the lineup.”

Hoskins had texted Harper during the offseason to offer himself as a sounding board for insight into the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia. Harper had none.

Harper has played 50 games at Citizens Bank Park during seven seasons with the Nationals and has heard the stories of its energy and passion when the Phils are in contention. Having watched how the city reacted to the Eagles winning a Super Bowl in 2018, he knows how seriously Philly fans take their teams.

“When you’re a visiting player, you feel like it’s you against the whole stadium,” McCutchen said. “It’s an atmosphere that they’re on their side. You feel that. It makes it a little harder going out there and playing. The atmosphere is tremendous.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.