Philadelphia, PA, United States (AHN Sports) – Before Cole Hamels drilled Bryce Harper with a fastball in the back two weeks ago, the Phillies were throwing verbal darts at the Nationals rookie phenom.
‘Golden boy is up,” Shane Victorino said while a Nationals game was broadcast last month in the Phillies clubhouse. The Flyin’ Hawaian was goofing on Harper, who was stepping to the plate for the first time.
“What is he, 3 for 2,” Cliff Lee cracked.
Victorino turned off the television while Harper was batting.
Harper was wearing a bullseye on the back of his jersey before Hamels welcomed him to the big leagues in Cole’s old school way.
The 19-year old future of the Nationals, who normally only speaks to a group of reporters, laughed heartily when informed of Lee’s joke.
“It’s unbelievable playing against guys you grew up watching,” Harper said during an exclusive chat. “You see guys like Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Chase Utley and it’s like ‘wow, I’m really up here playing with these guys.’ I just try to take everything in stride and take one day a time.”
Harper isn’t just impressive on the diamond. The Washington Nationals rookie phenom is also a star in the classroom. Apparently Harper aced his media relations session. He’s saying all the right things and using clichés like he sports eyeblack.
He predictably downplayed the rematch versus Hamels, who beaned Harper but more significantly beat the Nats for the Phillies lone win against its new rival in Washington D.C.
“I’ve put that all behind me, definitely,” said Harper, who walked and singled though the Phils won 4-1. “Hamels is a great pitcher. He’s an All-Star. He does everything right. He’s a bulldog. You just try to go out there and get a ‘W’ and not worry about anything around you. He’s an All-Star, who is a very talented. He’s an outstanding pitcher.”
Apparently we’ll never know what Harper really thinks. But the Phillies animosity is perhaps driven by Harper’s perceived lack of respect for the game.
That seems to have changed now that he is in the big leagues.after blowing a kiss at a minor league pitcher he took deep last summer.
“Bryce is going to be a target for awhile, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere in baseball,” former Phillies closer and Nats reliever Brad Lidge said.
“But from what I’ve seen, he has a good head on his shoulders on the field and in the clubhouse. I can’t say anything bad about the guy. Everyone in the world is watching his every move and he’s only 19. I couldn’t handle that at 19. Bryce is an amazing player. You see what he does out there?”
Phillies fans have had an eyeful of the uber talented athlete, who could be such a long-term nemesis that he could rival Chipper Jones, J.D. Drew and Scott Stevens for most despised athletic enemy.
Harper, who had two hits against the Phillies Monday night, singled and tripled in a pair of runs and scored Tuesday.
“It’s fun playing here,” Harper said. “They have a great fan base in Philadelphia. Win or lose, they have a packed house. All of that (the boos directed his way) is no big deal. They want their team to succeed. I understand it. I’m looking forward to coming up here (with the Nationals) and playing here in front of them for years to come. It’s fun to play against the Phillies.”
The way Charlie Manuel’s team playing, below expectations thus far this season, it certainly is fun to face them.