Phillies star Bryce Harper. (Photo: Getty Images)
As sports fans, we should be trained to take the long view. Early impressions can be deceiving – just ask those among us who bought into the fool’s gold of Dom Brown or Bobby Hoying. A player prematurely declared a bust can wind up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, a la Brandon Graham or Zach Ertz.
Patience may be antithetical to the guy sitting in the bleachers, but it really is the wise approach.
Which brings us, of course, to Bryce Harper.
After entering into a 13-year, $330 million marriage with the Phillies, Harper had a rough early stretch in South Philly. He teased the locals with three homers in his first four games and then fell into a frightening slump – batting just .187 with four homers over the next 40 days.
Raise your hand here if you’re guilty of having early doubts. A few fans — and let me stress the word few — even started booing down at the ballpark, which allowed lazy national media types to drag out their Philly-fans-as-troglodytes tropes.
But overall, I think most locals got it. Philadelphia fans are more patient than we used to be — at least we’re way less miserable. And most knew it was just a matter of time before Harper’s game awoke.
It did — with a bang — over the weekend. In the three-game sweep over Colorado, Harper had four extra-base hits and raised his slugging percentage 46 points. On Saturday he blasted a homer conservatively measured at 466 feet over the batter’s eye in centerfield. And on Sunday, he won the game with a 404-foot three-run bomb into the bullpen off lefty specialist Mike Dunne.
Like most sluggers, Harper can be streaky. Phils manager Gabe Kapler — always an optimist — projected this weekend’s awakening portends a great period for his right fielder.
“I think the home run that he hit to center field [Saturday] was the turning point and the moment where he started to feel more like Bryce,” Kapler said. “We all knew this kind of performance was coming. With his star power, he has the ability to transcend the game.”
Thing is, Harper has done everything right except getting hot at the plate since arriving in Philadelphia. His defense in right field is a revelation of hustle and shoestring catches. Fans in Washington may wonder why he didn’t lay out for balls during his seven seasons as a National but he’s the second coming of Aaron Rowand in red pinstripes.
By all accounts, the new guy is a terrific teammate and leader. The Phils needed an injection of clubhouse energy after last season’s collapse and Harper (along with fellow newcomers Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura) has provided that.
And he’s been marvelous with media and fans, which counts in this city more than most. Rather than get McNabbish about some heckling, Harper said “I’d boo me too,” based on the desultory early results.
Look, there are fair concerns with Harper’s strikeout rate (29 percent), especially against sliders. But this is going to be a long marriage, with its share of ups and downs. Even while playing poorly for a month, Harper contributed by getting on base – his 34 walks lead the NL.
And the series against Colorado showed that great things are about to come. The Phils have a 2.5-game lead in the East, where only the Braves look able to give them a fight.
We’re poised to have a great summer. And Bryce Harper will be right in the middle of it. Just let yourself be patient and allow it to unfold.