- Bryce Harper made his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies on opening day on Thursday.
- The game was the first of 2,106 regular season games Harper will have the chance to play in after signing his 13-year, $US330 million deal in the offseason.
- At Citizens Bank Park, fans recalled the moment they found out Harper was coming to Philadelphia and the high expectations that come with his massive contract.
- By the time Harper’s deal with the Phillies is up, the 8-year-old fans in attendance on opening day 2019 will be able to buy a $US12 stadium beer.
Opening day brings hope for all 30 teams in baseball.
No matter how low your expectations on the upcoming season, in game one of 162, a win will put you at the top of the standings, if only for a moment, and anything is possible.
But for the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, opening day was not just game one of 162 – it was game one of 2,106, with Bryce Harper making his debut in red pinstripes after signing a then-record $US330 million deal to play in the City of Brotherly Love for the next 13 seasons.
The mood was electric at Citizens Bank Park, in a way that might not have been familiar to younger Phillies fans who were not around for the 2008 World Series run. But while the excitement of the 2008 Phillies was sparked by wins, on Thursday it was the electricity of expectation that rippled through the capacity crowd of 44,469 fans in attendance.
From the start, it was clear that Harper was ready to please the crowd of Philly Phaithful.
Donning bright green cleats emblazoned with the eyes of the Phillie Phanatic, Harper ran out to raucous cheers when his name was announced in the opening lineups. The roars rose to another level when he made his way to right field, where he bowed to the fans and gave two emphatic fist pumps.
— Matt Mullin (@matt_mullin) March 28, 2019
Harper wasn’t the only signing of the Phillies offseason. Fellow former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen joined the team and hit a lead-off home run in his debut in red and white. Catcher J.T. Realmuto was also brought to Philadelphia during the team’s weeks of hot stove spending.
But Harper was the talk of the town on Thursday, not just because of his talent, but because of his contract, and the commitment to the future it represents. Asking around Citizens Bank Park, fans recalled the moment they found out that Harper was coming to Philadelphia with absolute joy.
“I was on a run right after work,” Steven Kuchera says of when he found out the news. Kuchera was sporting a Harper jersey standing by section 106 in right field to get a good view of the Phillies new superstar.
“My friend texted me, I was like ‘Wait what?!’ I couldn’t process it,” Kunchera says. “Then I went home and checked Twitter and realised it was the real freakin’ deal.”
Nicole Semola, a Phillies fan since she was born, attending her fifth straight opening day, had a similar story.
“One of my friends texted me, I saw it on social media, it kind of all happened at once,” Semola says. “I was really, really excited. It was the best news I had heard in a while.”
No Phillies fan I met at the stadium was more colourful with his recollection that Danny Ryan, a fan from Woodbury, New Jersey at his fourth straight opening day. Ryan had been walking his dogs when the news broke, and a friend had called him. He decided not to pick up, but as soon as the call was canceled, a notification from Bleacher Report came through his phone.
“I just screamed ‘Holy s—!’ I was going insane,” Ryan tells me while waiting on line for roast pork from Tony Luke’s in centerfield. “I was waiting for it, dude. I was so impatient.”
Harper’s debut was admitting underwhelming from a production standpoint. The Phillies new $US330 million man went 0-3 with two strikeouts, a walk, and a run scored. Harper even received a smattering of boos from the Philly crowd after his second strikeout of the day, though I didn’t hear of them until after the game.
The real boos were reserved for the Braves after their decision to intentionally walk Harper when he had runners in scoring position in the seventh inning.
Even without a hit, Harper proved the value he has to the lineup with that walk – loading the bases to set up Rhys Hoskins for an exclamation point Grand Slam that sent the home crowd into hysterics.
If you walk Bryce, you're going to have to deal with Rhys.
Hoskins blasts his first career grand slam! pic.twitter.com/NmVbhtQT5i
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 28, 2019
But Phillies fans are looking for a lot more than situational walks from Harper and his 13-year, $US330 million deal.
“I want this hand to be heavy with rings,” Kunchera tells me, holding up his right hand for emphasis. “I need at least three,” his friend Faustinus agrees.
Ryan was a bit more reserved with his expectations but made it clear he still wants a title. “Just one. One or two,” he says. “I know how hard it is to win a ring in baseball, so I’d be happy with just one. Especially in Philly.”
It goes without saying, but is worth emphasising – 13 years is a long time, and in baseball. It’s an eternity, and Sunday’s game only a blip. Nothing made that more clear than talking to some of the younger Phillies fans in attendance.
Jackson, Cash, and Peyton are 8, 10, and 11, respectively, and stood above the bullpens in centerfield sporting Harper jerseys along with their mothers. Peyton estimates he’s been to “about 30” games in his young fandom, but this was his first opening day.
The trio’s feelings for Bryce Harper will undoubtedly evolve with time, but for now, Peyton likes “How nice he is.” Cash agrees, saying, “He’s a good guy, and I like his hair,” with a smile and a shock of bleach on his own head. Jackson tells me his favourite part of the day was high-fiving all the players and assured me that Harper gave the best high fives of the whole team, though Peyton argues that Maikel Franco gave a pretty good one as well.
Asked what they will be doing on opening day in 13 years, the trio of friends thinks for a moment.
“Probably celebrating,” Peyton says. “We’re going to go to every game!” Cash proclaims.
Jackson’s mother had another idea for his plans in 13 years, after 2,105 more games from Harper in red pinstripes.
“You’ll have to buy mum a beer.”
Read more from Tyler Lauletta:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.