CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper drew big cheers, a pair of walks and a most unusual defense in his spring training debut for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Both times the slugger with the biggest contract in baseball came to the plate, the Toronto Blue Jays shifted to a four-man outfield, moved the shortstop on the other side of second base and gave the left-handed hitting Harper a wide-open left side of the infield.
“I’ve never seen that. That’s intense,” Harper said, adding he hopes teams don’t do that to him often. “If they start playing ball like that, it’s definitely different.”
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler didn’t want to discuss shift strategy but shared his advice for Harper.
“Hit a lot of homers, drive the ball like you’re capable of, do exactly what you always do, be Bryce Harper,” Kapler said.
Harper drew a loud ovation when he walked up to the plate to Will Smith’s theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Wearing No. 3 on his uniform, eye black under his eyes and a white armband with “HEART” written in red letters around it, Harper dug into the batter’s box as “In West Philadelphia born and raised…” blared from the stadium’s speakers.
“The ovation they gave me, I’m very humbled, very blessed to be able to get out there and play in front of a fan base like that,” Harper said, adding he’ll probably use a different walk-up song once the season starts. “Selling out a spring training game is pretty incredible to see. Just goes to show how great a fan base Philly is.”
Batting third as the designated hitter, Harper walked twice before exiting.
“It was fun to be out there, get some dirt on my cleats, get in the batter’s box and compete. That’s what I love to do,” Harper said. “I was able to see some pitches, take two swings early in the count, see some splits from a good pitcher, really happy where I was today.”