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Bryce Harper's take on baseball's international development – ​​NBC Sports Philadelphia

LONDON — Bryce Harper wears many hats. Husband, father, superstar athlete, franchise icon, one of the faces of Under Armour and Gatorade.

On Friday afternoon, he wore a different jersey at London Stadium, a day before his Phillies opened a two-game series against the rival Mets, serving almost as an ambassador not only for Major League Baseball but for the sport of baseball itself.

Remember, these people don't know much about baseball. The Yankees played the Red Sox in 2019 and the Cubs played the Cardinals last year, but those were the only two major league series to take place in the UK.

At his press conference on Friday, Harper was asked several times and in different ways by British reporters why he finds baseball so exciting, how the game can be developed further and what originally fascinated him about it as a child.

“I grew up playing football, baseball, basketball and other sports,” he said. “I love grass, I love leather, I love dirt. I love wood bats, man. I remember the first time I wore metal cleats and it went click, click, click, click. When you (grow up) you wear the molded cleats and then you switch to metal cleats and you're like, 'Oh wow, that's cool, I'm like an older guy.'

“Just the whole thing. Also the tradition of the MLB. It's been around for a long time. The game has changed so much. Of course there are still traditionalists. But I think as the game has gotten younger, as the players have gotten younger, people have kind of turned away from those players. The emotions have helped, but you have to understand that it's a traditional game too, so you have to kind of delineate both sides because you don't want to lose one fan or the other, you want to bring them together and bring everyone together.”

As for spreading the game, Harper's overall message was that it can be done by holding events like the London Series, by showcasing the sport in different countries. It could be 100 kids who see Harper or Ranger Suarez or JT Realmuto that weekend and become lifelong baseball fans. It could be 1,000. It could be 10,000. That kind of conversion is hard to measure and impossible to overestimate.

“We have some really good players from all over the world in our game,” Harper said. “It's great to see the game here and in Mexico. I think when we get to the UK we'll probably visit a lot of other places as well, like the NFL has done. I think that will help bring our game closer to the fans.”

“But the fans have to want to see us play. Other countries are interested in other sports. No matter how much you tell people, the Premier League will still be bigger. There are certain things that are bigger than baseball. Of course, the NFL has a pretty good fan base here too. I think a lot of fans know basketball because basketball exists in Europe too.

“The more the game grows and the more we engage with the different cultures of the world, the more I think it will evolve.”

And then there's the Olympics, which Harper has always been passionate about. Baseball returns to Los Angeles for the Summer Games in 2028. Harper is keen to see major league players involved and has already expressed his desire to participate.

He doesn't just want it for himself, he wants it for the entire sport.

“My biggest concern (to promote the game) is the Olympics,” he said. “There's nothing more important in the world than the Olympics. I watch all kinds of sports during the Olympics because it's the Olympics, so it's really tough that baseball isn't in the Olympics. To send those players out there and take that break, I think that's the biggest thing. I love hockey, it's one of my favorite sports and to see it in the Olympics is one of the coolest things ever. They take that three-week break and let those guys play. I think that's another big goal that we should have as Major League Baseball.

“I've talked to numerous people at MLB about it. I would love to be a part of it. Of course we have the World Baseball Classic, but it's not the same. It's not. People can say as much as they want, it's just not the same. The Olympics are so global. The WBC is great, brings a lot of people together and that's really cool, but the Olympics are something you dream about when you're in it. So if I had the chance to put on my nation's colors again and represent them on my chest again like when I was 18 and 16, I would absolutely love it.”

By that time, he will be 35 years old and in the 10th year of the 13-year contract he signed with the Phillies prior to 2019. Harper is obsessed with winning the World Series, and the fact that he nearly experienced that triumph in 2022 and 2023 has only heightened that sense of urgency.

“After I signed John (Middleton), I knew his mentality and what he wanted to accomplish. It was incredible to know the direction he wanted to take this whole thing and I think we accomplished that, we accomplished it a little bit,” he said. “Obviously our main goal is to win the World Series and that's what we work toward every day. We've had a great start to this year, but we're playing a full season and a lot can happen. We've just got to keep going, do our thing, understand that we can be better in all facets of the game and get better every day.”