CLEARWATER, Fla. ― A panoramic photo outside the Phillies clubhouse captures the moment a city celebrated the snapping of a 25-year title drought.
The fans are on their feet, the players are celebrating on their field, the large bell is ringing, and fireworks are erupting over Citizens Bank Park.
The oversized photo of that brisk October 2008 night has greeted Rhys Hoskins every morning for the last three years as he prepares in spring training for another season. The photo, which sits to the right of the manager’s office, is a reminder of what winning looks like.
And on Friday morning, a day after Hoskins’ team reached agreement with Bryce Harper on a 13-year contract, picturing himself in it felt a bit more tangible.
“Everyone talks about this picture," Hoskins said. "There’s rally towels waving around. You can’t see an empty seat. You can’t see anywhere where people can stand. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I want to feel it. I think we’re on our way, and Bryce gives us a chance to be there.”
The Phillies had already had a strong offseason ― adding catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura, and reliever David Robertson ― before owner John Middleton pointed his private jet last weekend toward Las Vegas.
Adding Harper made a strong offseason an excellent one. The Phillies are four weeks away from starting a season as pennant contenders. This offseason moved the Phillies from a team that could contend for a division title to a team that can look at a panoramic photo and begin to dream.
“We have the group right now to win it. I think everyone understands that,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “Is it going to be easy? No. But we have the pieces necessary to get that done and I’m just looking forward to seeing him walk through those doors tomorrow.”
Harper is expected to be introduced Saturday in a news conference at Spectrum Field. He arrived Friday afternoon at a nearby airport as he flew to Florida from Las Vegas on Middleton’s private jet. It was impossible to ignore the buzz Harper created in Phillies camp on Friday morning. And this was before he even took a physical.
“You bring in a guy like this and now it goes from ‘We know and we think that we can take the next step from last season,’ to ‘Now this is ours.’ We feel that way,” Hoskins said. “We’re a confident bunch. You get to add a player like this, I think it makes everyone around you better.”
Friday morning was the first time the entire team was together since the Phillies landed Harper. A day earlier, some were in nearby Dunedin playing the Blue Jays while others were in Clearwater playing the Orioles. Others had been given a day off to relax.
Arrieta was riding personal watercrafts with outfielder Dylan Cozens when Scott Boras -- the agent for both Arrieta and Harper -- sent him a text message. Harper was coming, Boras said.
Arrieta, wearing a Speedo purchased by Cozens, posted a video to Instagram of him sweeping the floor as techno music boomed. He said he was “getting the house ready” for Harper. Everyone found their own way to celebrate.
“I was pumped. That’s a big signing,” said Pat Neshek, who did not change into a Speedo after he read the news on Twitter. “I’m glad it’s over and glad he can get here. It’s good for the city. I think the fans were hoping for that and would’ve been really disappointed. You don’t want to say that, but the city would’ve been devastated if we didn’t get one of those guys [Harper or Manny Machado]. It’s awesome.”
Hoskins was sitting outside at his home with his dog, Rookie. He was enjoying a day away from camp when his phone rang. It was Harper.
“He said, ‘Hey, man, I’m on my way,’ ” Hoskins said.
The two became friends last summer at the Home Run Derby. As with Arrieta, they share the same agent and Hoskins reached out to Harper this winter to answer any questions Harper or his wife, Kayla, had about Philadelphia. And now Harper was giving Hoskins the call he -- and an entire fan base -- had waited all winter for.
It was the end of a successful offseason with a team the Phillies believe is built for brisk October nights. It was time to start dreaming.