At this time last year, Bryce Harper was the story of baseball. One of the best players in the sport was still without a contract.
Now he’s an afterthought, quietly going about his business, preparing for his second season with the Phillies, while everyone talks about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
And Harper, who signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies, loves it.
“It’s actually kind of nice,’’ Harper, 27, told USA Today Sports. “Cameras aren’t all over the place. You’re not seeing ESPN and Fox every single day. You don’t have all of these trucks and craziness going on. Everybody can just focus on our team and not really just focus on myself.
“I think it’s better for everybody in this clubhouse.’’
Harper’s first year in Philadelphia left a little to be desired. The Phillies won 81 games and finished fourth in the NL East while his old team, the Nationals, won the World Series. But Harper, who batted .260 last year with 35 homers and 114 RBIs, doesn’t sound hung up on that. He claims to love his new team and town.
“Being in Philly last year, I loved every moment of it,” he said. “You see what a fan base can do, how much they understand, and the passion and drive and just the history of this organization. It’s just fun. It’s electric being around them to see the fan base and how pumped they are. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it. I love this team. We know what we can do as an organization, and what we can do as a city, together. All of us.’’
Significant changes were made in the offseason. Joe Girardi was brought in to manage. Didi Gregorius was added at shortstop. Expectations are high. The hope is the Phillies can do what Harper’s old team did and make October noise.
“The goal every single year is to get deep into the playoffs, and we weren’t able to do that,’’ Harper said. “We ended up on a bad note [losing 16 of the last 25 games]. It’s just how it goes. But on a personal note, being part of an organization that really cares about their players and really cares about their families is amazing. The fans take pride in all of their teams in the city. It’s just a lot of fun to be part of an organization that is just great in all aspects.’’