In 2017, after the Washington Nationals lost by one run at home in the deciding game of a divisional round playoff series for the second year in a row, Bryce Harper packed his things and took a five-hour flight home with relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler, a fellow Las Vegas native and resident.
“He was young and just newly married,” Kintzler recalled by phone last week. “I think we had [veteran outfielder] Jayson Werth to kind of keep him in line.”
“I’m anxious to see,” said the 36-year-old Kintzler, who recently signed with the Phillies and is competing for a job in spring training. “He’s definitely a family man now. I’m anxious to see how he acts and how he goes about his business.”
Call it a hunch, but Kintzler likely will spot a difference.
As the Phillies gather for their first full-squad workout Monday in Clearwater, Fla., it’s striking how much Harper’s life has changed in the 725 days since he joined the Phillies. It isn’t only his 13-year, $330 million contract, still the record for free agents. He has also become a father -- of two. His son, Krew, was born in August 2019, and his daughter, Brooklyn, this past November.
Harper is 28 now, which hardly seems possible considering he has been in the baseball zeitgeist since he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16 as the “Chosen One,” a distinction that invited as much jealousy and scrutiny within the sport as it did admiration. Phillies manager Joe Girardi joked Sunday that Harper “was [called] up when he was 12 years old.”
There are times when the Phillies’ star right fielder doesn’t act his age. He’s an avid gamer with an affinity for Fortnite. But he’s as likely to post pictures of his kids on social media, a sign that he’s in a decidedly different phase of both his life and career.
“I think he has a great balance in life,” Girardi said. “He’s a great husband, he’s a great father, which obviously, if you’re not around him, you wouldn’t know that. But I got a chance to witness it last year.”
With the Nationals, Harper was the kid with impossible expectations. Leadership wasn’t required in a clubhouse filled with older position players, including Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Daniel Murphy. But baseball also fosters a culture in which younger players are supposed to be more reserved. Harper’s overt displays of emotion on the field didn’t always sit well. In 2015, he fought with closer Jonathan Papelbon in the dugout.