CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was quite the spectacle when Bryce Harper homered off the first pitch he saw in his first simulated game as a Phillie. It came as no surprise though—after all, the man has hit 184 home runs in just seven seasons with the Washington Nationals. He was a six-time all-star there and won an MVP all before turning 26.
What made it a spectacle, however, was when he pointed his bat at the bat boy, who was sitting on a turned over bucket next to the home dugout at Spectrum Field. In his best Clint Eastwood impression, Harper demanded: “Run” with squinty eyes and a grimace. The kid should have known better: Mondo does not run the bases in simulated games; he lets the fresh legs handle that. That’s a rider in his contract (he chose that over a no-trade clause). The bat boy sprinted down the first-base line, but before he made it there, he heard that same quiet but intense voice groan, “slower.” The kid slowed down. “Faster.” This trend continued from base to base. Eventually, the boy found the pace of Harper’s home run gallop—even if it took him five minutes to complete the trip. It looked like the poor kid was starting one of those Couch-to-5K running programs where you switch off running and walking short distances to build endurance, although I don’t know any of those programs that allow a grown man to calmly intimidate you the whole way.
When the kid finished, Harper motioned for a high five, but left his hand too high for the kid to make contact. It’s unclear whether or not it was intentional. Either way, he didn’t correct himself. The kid was then forced to climb onto the bucket he was previously sitting on so that he could take off Harper’s helmet for a simulated hair flip.
“We want Bryce to be comfortable here,” said Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. “So we told him to do everything as he did during spring when he was with Washington. So far it’s going great. The only thing I would change is playing with an actual ball. It’s kind of a waste of time to watch him swing and then make all the guys pretend to see where a ball would land. Seems more like a simulated golf swing to me. Also, you could tell Bryce got at least a little upset when we didn’t all imagine the ball went past the parking lot.”
It truly was a majestic moon shot though, as was the one Harper hit in a simulated game the next day—and it was with a real ball. His second homer was just as awkward though, but not because of the ball boy (he knew what to do this time, since the Phillies sent him home to read Harper’s contract as homework). It was awkward because as the ball boy was running the bases, Harper camped out on home plate doing his best Heddo impression: rubbing his eyes and whimpering to simulate crying at the pitcher. For some reason, almost everyone applauded the whole show. The only one who seemed unimpressed was visiting Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (otherwise known as baseball’s Chuck Norris) who yelled out: “It’s easy when you play with a bunch of rejects and a fat kid, Harper!”
This was puzzling for two reasons: (1) Why would he single out Tommy Hunter like that? and (2) The other players were not rejects. In fact, Spectrum Field was packed with Hall of Famers for both simulated games. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing jerseys that read Gooden, Griffey, Raines, Johnson, Martinez, Sandberg, Mays, Ryan, Baines (well maybe one reject), Guerrero…Mantle…Foxx…Cobb…Gehrig. They were all out there in the field. They were worn by children, but they were all out there. In fact, Harper was the only person on the field who could legally drive (Dylan Cozens was out there too, but that’s a story for another day).
Schmidt came out of the dugout. “This isn’t helping you. Judging by your hair, and lack of mustache, we need to toughen you up. You need to have a real Phillies experience.” Schmidt simulated that by forcing some 12-year-old wearing a Steve Carlton jersey pitch underhanded while Harper swung through his shoes. Harper was then forced to walk back to the dugout, drowning in boos from children and dodging batteries that were being thrown from the stands. It was so authentic that a single tear trickled down Schmidt’s face before being absorbed by the ‘stache.
After the second simulated game, the Phillies held a simulated press conference. It consisted of Harper, the Phillie Phanatic, and all the Phillies affiliate mascots (Lehigh Valley’s Ferrous, Reading’s Screwball, Williamsport’s Boomer, and Lakewood’s Buster). Every question they asked, Harper politely answered between cheesesteak bites: “That’s a clown question, bro.”
Graphic by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)
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