Here’s what we know after more than a decade of watching Bryce Harper in the majors: He’s a good athlete. And so while the idea of suddenly playing a whole new position where a bunch of powerful lefties hit the line in your face can be a nightmare for standard and uncoordinated folks, it stands to reason that if you’re as in tune with your body as Harper is, you can adapt a little quicker.
Still, I don’t think even the most adoring of Harper’s skills could have imagined he’d be so comfortable at first base, so quickly. The Phillies designated hitter, who played right field until an ACL injury early last year, began preparing to play the unknown position after Rhys Hoskins suffered a torn ACL and to prevent Kyle Schwarber from having to play the outfield every day. The plan is for Harper to play half of his games there in the future, and the experiment officially began Friday in Cleveland. Despite his many, many years of playing baseball in a different place, he seemed as comfortable as a cat in a cardboard box. He calmly fielded a groundout on the leadoff hitter, dropped to a knee to catch a line drive on the second, and on the third, used some of his old acrobatic outfield skills to track down a pop fly into a fenced-off danger zone just in front of the seats.
“I thought there were more networks than there were,” Harper said.
On Sunday, in a game the Phillies actually won to snap a four-game losing streak, the new man in the right side of the infield did everything he could to prove his first start wasn’t a fluke. There was a mishap on a high pitch that caused Alec Bohm to call an error, but otherwise, Harper defended the Guardians with speed and confidence. Here’s a small collection of good moves from the Phillies broadcast during the bottom of the sixth:
And in the eighth, he stared at the bane of a fielder’s existence, a Steven Kwan bunt, and he didn’t panic or forget his communication skills.
“He’s an athlete and he’s a baseball player,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He watches the game, he is a student. … It seems that he has been there before ”.
“He’s got a lot of energy in his time there,” said Sunday’s starter Aaron Nola.
It’s tempting to call this ability for the first time something like magic: you watch a man do one thing for over a decade, and suddenly you see him doing something very different. But how he filled this void is a testament to countless hours of practice and preparation, and to baseball instincts honed by a lifetime spent breathing the game. Physically and mentally, Bryce Harper was ready for this weekend. Those of us who see this and think, hm, maybe playing first isn’t that hard He couldn’t dream of being so prepared for anything.