08 June 2024

Bryce Harper ‘loved’ marking home run with secret football-style knee slide

08 June 2024

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper revealed he kept plans for a football-style home run celebration secret until he knocked one over the right field wall in his side’s 7-2 victory over the New York Mets at London Stadium.

The Mets were up 1-0 after the first inning of the two-game London Series opener, but the ‘visiting’ Phillies piled on the runs after Harper tied it up with his solo shot in an explosive, six-run fourth that also included a three-run blast by Whit Merrifield.

Harper, who walked out to the Spice Girls’ Wannabe and had a special bat designed for the trip, commemorated his homer with a knee slide in front of the Phillies dugout.

“I didn’t tell any of my team-mates because I wanted them all to be pretty surprised,” said Harper, “but I was in the training room this morning, talking to our trainers and told them, ‘If I go deep, I’m going to do the soccer celebration’.

“I loved the moment, loved the opportunity, and I was able to do it. I kind of was just wondering (running the bases) if I was actually going to do it when I crossed home plate because I’d been talking about it.

“I think my only fear was if I got caught on the turf with my knees.”

The Phillies’ Venezuelan starting pitcher Ranger Suarez, a Barcelona supporter who gave up both Mets runs and struck out six batters across his 5.2 innings, would later describe the celebration as “iconic”, while boss Rob Thomson confessed he was simply praying; “Just don’t get hurt.”

I loved the moment, loved the opportunity, and I was able to do it.

Thomson’s National League East leaders made it 7-2 when Nick Castellanos hooked a home run just inside the left field foul pole in the eighth to cap off a contest that saw the Mets strand 11 runners on base and go just two for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Mets boss Carlos Mendoza cycled through five relievers after starter Sean Manaea managed just 3.2 innings, and saw his side slump to a disappointing conclusion when JD Martinez grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Harper, who exactly 15 years ago to the day graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old with the caption ‘baseball’s chosen one’ and ‘the most exciting prodigy since Lebron (James)’ added: “I think we all like doing these types of things, coming here, being able to put on a good show and let them know the emotion of baseball.

“I think the fans in Philadelphia rival a football stadium, the way it electrifies you and the way you play and everything, so it’s so much fun to be able to come across the pond and do this.”

Harper is not a familiar face on these shores, but he is precisely the sort of top, charismatic talent Major League Baseball needs to better promote if the league’s ambition to win over new global markets is going to achieve any kind of long-term success.

Thomson, who described Saturday’s atmosphere – with 53,882 in attendance – as “fantastic”, added: “[Harper] is a superstar. People come to watch him play and watch him perform, and he understands that.

“He’s a perfectionist every time he goes to the plate. The athlete and the student of the game that he is and the work ethic that he has.

“There’s a lot of eyes on him, and he performed. How many people can say that?”

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