TAMPA, Fla. – Bryce Harper visited the Yankees on Wednesday night.
A few weeks ago -- when Harper was still a free agent -- that sentence would have sent the baseball world into a frenzy.
But Harper visited the Yankees on Wednesday because the spring training schedule had his new team, the Phillies, playing at Steinbrenner Field. Anyone who wanted to fantasize about seeing Harper in pinstripes had to settle for seeing him shake hands with Reggie Jackson before taking his cuts wearing Phillies red.
“He just told me ‘congratulations,’ ” Harper said. “I was a big fan of Reggie growing up. “Definitely humbling . . . Reggie Jackson knows who I am and things like that.”
Harper could have carried on Jackson’s legacy as a Yankees rightfielder, but the team never showed any interest in the 26-year-old megastar before he agreed with the Phillies on Feb. 28 on a 13-year contract worth $330 million.
“I know the kind of outfield they have when they went out and got [Giancarlo] Stanton in that trade,” Harper said. “Never heard from them. Everybody knew that growing up I was a huge Yankee fan, of course, but I’m happy with where I’m at and very excited to start my chapter with the Phillies.”
Harper, who went 0-for-2 in three trips, was greeted with mostly boos when he came to the plate in the first inning against Masahiro Tanaka. He grounded out to first.
“You hear them,” Harper said. “But I’ve been hearing them so long it’s part of just playing the season and the game. Every stadium I go into I expect to be booed. “
In the bottom of the first, Harper dove for and missed a short fly ball hit by Stanton for a single.
“I was able to lay out for the first time this year,” Harper said. “It felt good. It felt more like a belly flop than a dive.”
Harper struck out against Tanaka in the third. Facing Adam Ottavino in the fifth, he reached on catcher’s interference on a swing and miss and then stole second. Harper is hitless in four at-bats over three games.
The super intense Harper will be managed by the super super intense Gabe Kapler in a city that is known for its super super super intense fans. Kapler said Harper is fitting in just nicely, and not just as the Phillies’ No. 3 hitter.
“None of this is new for him,” Kapler said. “Philadelphia brings even higher expectations, but he’s dealt with the media since he was a teenager, since he was a young teenager. I think one of the reasons he’s been so good at dealing with the brightest lights is because he prepares for them. He doesn’t walk into the brightest lights without a game plan and I think that’s what makes him special.”
Kapler was asked if he has learned anything surprising about Harper.
“I wouldn’t even call it a surprise,” Kapler said. “I would say it’s something that’s stood out to me that I didn’t know about him: He’s very articulate. Very cultured. He’s very thoughtful and he has a ton of life experience to share.”
That life experience includes being a Sports Illustrated cover boy when he was a boy. It includes being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, making the All-Star team six times in seven seasons since coming to the majors with the Nationals at age 19 in 2012, and bringing more than his share of attention and expectations to the Phillies.
Maybe Harper would have just been one of the guys with the Yankees. We’ll never know.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed is the bar has been raised for us,” Kapler said. “The expectations have gotten higher. People expect more from us . . We love that. We want that.”