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Philly Sports Scene: The Bryce Harper impact

Image: “Bryce Harper” by slgckgc is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

On Saturday, Bryce Harper hit his first regular season home run as a member of the Phillies in front of a sold out crowd at Citizens Bank Park. The homer was also Harper’s first hit for the club, and afterwards, Harper deservingly took a standing ovation that was akin to someone who just hit a walk off in the World Series. Now pardon my fandom, but the Bryce Harper effect is in full swing, and he has the potential to be one of the greatest Philadelphia icons ever.

When the Phillies signed Harper to a 13-year $330 million dollar contract on Feb. 28, they got the city excited about baseball for the first time in close to 10 years. Within 48 hours after signing Harper, the Phillies sold over 220,000 tickets worth somewhere in the area of $7 million. Harper’s jersey became the highest-selling jersey all-time in any sport for any player during its initial 24-hour launch, and is currently still on backorder for most online retailers.

The excitement didn’t stop at merchandise and ticket sales either. When Harper made his Spring Training debut on Saturday, March 9, over 10,000 people packed the stadium in Clearwater to watch him take his first at bats. Also, on that day NBC Sports Philadelphia saw a 311% boost in viewership compared to the spring training average and recorded a peak 4.0 HH rating when Harper took his first at bat.

It certainly appears like every one of Harper’s plate appearances will be primetime entertainment this season, and his arrival means the Phillies have come a long way since having the worst record in baseball during the 2015 season. And Harper’s presence on this team is more than just a list of financial figures and viewership statistics. Adding him to the team puts Philadelphia on the map as one of the premier sports markets in the country as well as increases the cultural value of the city.

Harper didn’t just sign a contract to play baseball, Harper made a commitment to raise his family here. His enthusiasm for being in Philadelphia, from wearing Philly Phanatic-inspired shoes and t-shirts to recruiting other top quality athletes to the area, is giving Philadelphians an insurmountable sense of pride that has been building over the past few years. No longer are we the long shot underdogs with a gritty fan base but average talent on the field. With the additions of Harper, Jean Segura, J.T Realmuto and Andrew Mccutchen, the Phillies, like the Sixers and Eagles, are legitimate title contenders for the first time in a long time, and it’s something that’s going to pay off more than just financial dividends.

With his respectful but passionate everyman persona, Harper is someone for kids to look up to and emulate (Little League numbers are surely going to be through the roof). Children and adults will once again be able to bond over the game of baseball on a nightly basis for the next thirteen years (there will be some kids who will grow up only knowing what it’s like to root for a winning team). The other eight guys in the Phillies’ lineup will step up their game and feed off of the energy surrounding Harper (Heck, I’ll take a Harper walk followed by a Hoskins homer any day of the week). And with any luck, the winning mentality that has now taken over the city will translate into a decade filled with treasured memories and multiple parades down Broad Street.

Andrew Heller is a second-year graduate student majoring in English.

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