Bryce Harper has no regrets entering Year 2 with Phillies: ‘Just so happy to be here’
MLB 

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There were no TV trucks with reporters breathlessly filming his arrival.

There weren't throngs of fans screaming at the first sight of him.

Oh, how life has changed at Philadelphia Phillies spring training camp.

A year ago, Bryce Harper was still home in Las Vegas, contemplating where he would spend the rest of his baseball life.

Today, he is sitting in front of his Phillies locker, casually chatting about life, the blue eyes and smile of his five-month-old son, his team, his old team that is now the World Series champion, the Phillies fanbase, new manager Joe Girardi, free-agent-to-be J.T. Realmuto, the Eagles, the Flyers, his long hair, and of course, the Houston Astros.

This is Year 2 of Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies, and it’s remarkable what a difference a year makes.

“It’s actually kind of nice,’’ says Harper, in a wide-ranging, 25-minute interview. “Cameras aren’t all over the place. You’re not seeing ESPN and Fox every single day. You don’t have all of these trucks and craziness going on. Everybody can just focus on our team and not really just focus on myself.

“I think it’s better for everybody in this clubhouse.’’

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In 2019, the Phillies missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year, while Harper’s former team, the Washington Nationals, won the World Series. Yet, Harper didn’t show the least bit of resentment or jealousy. He's thrilled for his former teammates and believes that once the Phillies win a championship, they’ll be just as happy for him.

Honestly, he says, there wasn’t a moment last year where he second-guessed his decision to leave Washington.

He’s convinced, more than ever, he made the perfect choice.

“Being in Philly last year,’’ Harper said, “I loved every moment of it. You see what a fan base can do, how much they understand, and the passion and drive and just the history of this organization. It’s just fun. It’s electric being around them to see the fan base and how pumped they are. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it.

“I love this team. We know what we can do as an organization, and what we can do as a city, together. All of us.’’

Harper signed a 13-year contract with the Phillies before the 2019 season. (Photo: Butch Dill, USA TODAY Sports)

Yes, just like the folks of Washington, D.C., who celebrated the first World Series title in the nation’s capital since 1924.

“Usually I don’t watch, this year I did,’’ Harper said. “Those guys I played with every single day, I was rooting for them, I was cheering for them. I’m happy to see what they did. Individually, I was just very happy for all of those guys. Just great guys over there.

“I enjoyed my time there, but I’m just so happy to be here.’’

And to think, if Nationals ownership didn’t veto a trade in 2018 to the Astros , Harper could have easily been answering a different line of questioning about that team this spring.

He is angry, too, at Houston's sign-stealing, but subdued talking about it. 

“Some guys have more to say because they were affected by it,’’ Harper said, “some guys don’t. The guys I feel bad for are the guys that come up for the first time. They’re excited and they’re pumped up to be there. They get their first start. The guys get their signs and then they are absolutely boat-raced. They get sent down and never get there again.

“Guys lose their jobs. You have a kid or have a wife, and you bank on being up in the big leagues for a long period of time. Or maybe you just bought a house. Now you can’t afford it.

“That’s life-altering. That’s sad. It just sucks.’’

The scars will eventually heal, and the game will be better off for it, Harper thinks. Just as he believes the best is yet to come for him.

Harper hit .260 last year with 35 homers and 114 RBI and believes his best years are ahead of him. He’s still just 27 years old. He’s going to keep getting better. The Phillies are going to get better. And he knows that one day, a championship will come.

“The goal every single year is to get deep into the playoffs, and we weren’t able to do that,’’ he said. “We ended up on a bad note [losing 16 of the last 25 games]. It’s just how it goes.

“But on a personal note, being part of an organization that really cares about their players and really cares about their families is amazing. The fans take pride in all of their teams in the city. It’s just a lot of fun to be part of an organization that is just great in all aspects.’’

Who knows, maybe he’ll even get to play for the same manager for a few years. Believe it or not, Joe Girardi will be the seventh manager Harper has played for in his career.

“You know how much I loved [Gabe Kapler],’’ Harper said. “I thought he did a great job for us. But sometimes, you just have to change. I thought Girardi was a great pick for us. He’s been around the game for a long time. Anybody that can spend nine years in New York, you’ve done something right.

“He’s going to come in and have that business-like mentality. He likes things run a certain way, and I respect that.’’

In many ways, it’s back to business for Harper. He didn’t spend his winter being wined and dined by prospective teams. He wasn’t worrying about whether he needed to pack his bags for Florida or Arizona for spring training, or having to find a place to live in a new city.

Back here on Florida's Gulf Coast, Harper is staying in the same condo he found last year. The landlord even promised he and his family could stay there for the rest of his career with the Phillies. And he now has a home just 15 minutes away from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

“I actually loved last winter,’’ Harper said. “I was able to sit through meetings and everyone tell you, 'We want you here, we want you there.' So I enjoyed it. But it’s a grind on your family and a lot of people around you.’’

Harper can only selfishly hope that teammate, J.T. Realmuto doesn’t have to experience the same free-agent frenzy. Realmuto, who lost his arbitration case Thursday at $10 million, is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.

Harper thinks he should make a killing, perhaps becoming the highest-paid catcher in history. But he just hopes that the Phillies are the ones writing that check.

“I want him to get as much as he can, because he deserves that,’’ Harper said. “All of the games he catches, what he does at the plate, the way he affects the game, it’s just unheard of.

“I want him here. We need him here. He’s the best catcher in baseball. Everybody knows it.’’

Harper slowly gets up for a photo shoot and stuffs his long, flowing hair under his cap. He can’t wait to tease Jayson Werth, his former teammate and close friend, convinced that he’s got the better hair.

Harper even sent a picture of his hair in a message to Werth on Wednesday to get him prepared.

“You’ve got to be a little proud,’’ Harper wrote.

Werth responded: “You look good, you play good.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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