TAMPA, Fla. – Bryce Harper arrived at Steinbrenner Field with the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and anyone residing in Yankees Universe could readily imagine what might have been.
There was Harper, chatting easily around the batting cage with Reggie Jackson.
And there was that built-for-the-Bronx left-handed swing, taking aim at the Southern short porch during batting practice; the park has the same dimensions as Yankee Stadium.
Yet, any idea Harper might have had of landing with the Yankees as a free agent began losing steam in December of 2017.
“When they went out and got (Giancarlo) Stanton in that trade (with the Marlins),’’ Harper said … well that said it all.
The Yankees’ committed to taking on the bulk of Stanton’s $325 million contract last winter, and they weren’t biting even as Harper lingered in free agency this winter.
“I never heard from them,’’ Harper said evenly. “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.’’
Back in the swing
Playing in his fourth exhibition game this spring, Harper is just trying to find his timing and rhythm.
To that end, Harper said he was happy to have already faced Blake Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young award winner. And he was glad to get two at-bats on Wednesday against Masahiro Tanaka.
“Very excited to get back out there, see some really good pitchers and get some swings in,’’ Harper said.
Harper grounded out unassisted to first baseman Greg Bird in the first inning. In his second at-bat, Harper struck out swinging at Tanaka’s 2-and-2 splitter.
Up for a third time against Chad Green, Harper reached on catcher’s interference by Gary Sanchez, and tried to convince plate umpire James Hoye to let him continue his time up.
“I would like to have had that at-bat for sure.”
Harper was also loudly received as he strolled to the plate, arriving to mostly boos – but a mix of cheers from the many Phillies fans; the team trains across Tampa Bay in Clearwater.
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“Every stadium I go into, I expect to be booed.’’
So did Mr. October, who chatted briefly with Harper before the game.
“(He) just told me congratulations,’’ Harper said, referring to the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed with the Phillies. “I was a big fan of Reggie growing up and seeing old highlights of him, things like that.
The Yankees never played on Harper in free agency, despite having reset their potential payroll penalties by staying under the luxury tax threshold last season.
And despite meeting with Manny Machado, the Yankees were on the fringes of his free-agent pursuit; Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres,
A sellout crowd of 10,182 reacted again as Harper – playing right field for the second time tis spring – mistimed his dive at Giancarlo Stanton’s shallow fly ball.
“A belly flop more than a dive,’’ Harper said of his try at a ball that fell for a single. “Just happy to get back out there and try to make a play on that.’’
“None of this is new for him,’’ Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of the attention surrounding Harper. “Certainly, I think Philadelphia brings even higher expectations.
“I think one of the reasons he’s been so good with the brightest lights is that he prepares well,” Kapler said. “He doesn’t walk into the brightest lights without a game plan. And I think that’s what makes him special.’’
And the plan now is just to be ready for opening day.
“That’s the biggest thing; hit out of that front window and not the back window. Get my at-bats in and be ready for (March) 28th.’’