June 23, 2024

Bryce Harper channels English footballers as he celebrates in London: ‘It was iconic’

LONDON — Bryce Harper understood the assignment. With Major League Baseball in London as part of its effort to grow the game’s reach overseas, the Philadelphia Phillies superstar obliged with a home run celebration that was fitting for the venue.

Harper smashed a solo shot in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 7-2 victory — striking an equalizer against the New York Mets — with the ball landing in the Billy Bonds Stand. After rounding the bases before a lively crowd at London Stadium, the home field of the English Premier League’s West Ham United, Harper jogged toward the dugout and channeled Jarrod Bowen, celebrating as if he had just scored a goal.

Harper entered into a slide on his knees, his arms outstretched, his chest puffed out. “Let’s go!” he screamed.

“I was laughing because I looked at all my teammates and their faces were like, ‘What is going on?’” he said after the game. “I was in the training room this morning, talking to our trainers and I was like, ‘Hey, if I go deep, I’m going to do the soccer celebration.’ I didn’t tell any of my teammates because I wanted them all to be pretty surprised.”

One of those stunned in the dugout was starting pitcher Ranger Suárez, who picked up his 10th win. “It was iconic, honestly,” Suárez said. “In our game, we don’t see those kinds of celebrations, so I liked it a lot and it was great”.

Harper’s manager Rob Thomson was also caught off-guard. “He didn’t discuss it with me,” he said, “I can tell you that.”

After stomping home plate with the first home run of the 2024 London Series, Harper questioned whether he would go through with the celebration due to the artificial grass field. “I was wondering if I was actually going to do it once I got across home plate,” he said. “My only fear was if I got caught on the turf with my knees”.

Harper quickly got over that fear, executing a perfect slide. Later, hot mics caught him yelling in the Phillies dugout. “I love soccer,” he proclaimed, the moment apparently getting the best of him. Just a day before, Harper took care not to say soccer, the American word for what is known everywhere else as football.

“I don’t want to say soccer, I’ll feel bad,” he said. “What an incredible sport. My wife grew up playing it through college and was pretty good at it. So just being able to watch it when it’s on. The Premier League’s all over our TV in the States as well. So it’s pretty cool to watch Jack Grealish. I love his hair. He’s got a really good mop, man.”

Of course, Harper’s mop got plenty of screen time in the dugout, especially as Philadelphia opened a 6-1 lead. The Phillies spent the fourth inning making it apparent to even the untrained eye which team is on the rise in the National League, and which team proved capable of stinking on two continents. Harper’s 15th home run of the season triggered a six-run inning for the Phillies, who batted around while chasing Mets lefty Sean Manaea.

Harper also singled and doubled, but struck out in the seventh inning when he came to bat needing a triple for the cycle.

“He is a superstar,” Thomson said. “People come to watch him play. And watch him perform and he understands that. And he’s a perfectionist. I think Bryce feels like every time he goes to the plate, he should get a base hit. And if he doesn’t, it upsets him. And that’s kind of what makes him great.”

Harper’s offensive outburst came with a custom bat that he had made for the occasion. It showed the Phillie Phanatic as a member of the Grenadier Guards.

“We talked with Victus for a couple of months, they had some ideas, I had some ideas,” Harper said. “We thought the Phanatic with a splash of English on there would be pretty cool. I think that’s the fun part of the game; in these games you can do stuff like that”.

The Showman will return to London Stadium again on Sunday morning. Perhaps he’ll find himself once more in that training room, figuring out another way to dazzle baseball fans visiting from across the world.

“It was fun,” Harper said. “Being able to put people on their feet and put joy in people. That’s what it’s all about”

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(Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)