Phillies star Bryce Harper can relate to Union’s teen phenom Cavan Sullivan

Philadelphia Phillies

Bryce Harper was chatting with his wife Kayla the other day when she showed him a story about 14-year-old soccer phenom Cavan Sullivan.

“I saw that, if he plays [for the Union] for X number of years that he can go to Manchester. That’s incredible,” the Phillies star said Wednesday. “Are you kidding me? Being 18 and playing for City? That’s amazing.”

And, for Harper, totally relatable.

» READ MORE: How does Bryce Harper thrive under playoff pressure? He’s lived with it since he was 16.

For the uninitiated, Sullivan, Philadelphia-born and Norristown-raised, signed a homegrown pro contract last week with the Union, the precursor to a career with English superpower Manchester City in the Premier League. It was a big deal, rumored to be the richest in Major League Soccer history.

There’s a parallel to Harper, who left high school in Las Vegas after his sophomore year to play in junior college. He was a travel-ball star, in demand among teams from California, Oklahoma, Alabama, and other far-flung places. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover at age 16. He was drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals at 17 and made his major-league debut at 19.

At no point did Harper slow down to be, well, normal.

Surely, then, Harper must appreciate Sullivan’s experience as a teenage sports prodigy.

“Everybody always talked about, ‘Oh, you’re missing out on this, you’re missing out on that,’ and yeah, I did. But I loved every minute of it,” Harper said before taking batting practice and returning to the Phillies’ lineup after missing Tuesday’s game in New York with a migraine. “I had good times in junior college and minor league baseball. It was definitely hard because I was so much younger than everybody else. Obviously, he’s so much younger than everybody else.

“I think that’s the hard part. You’re sitting there and it’s like, ‘I’m only 14 years old, and I’m playing with a guy that’s 36 with kids.’ But you find your ways, obviously. He’s in good hands [with the Union], and I’m sure he’ll be a great player and have a ton of fun. He said it’s something he dreamed about forever.”

» READ MORE: Why Cavan Sullivan, hyped as the world’s best 14-year-old soccer player, chose to turn pro with the Union

Harper, 31, grew up in the major-league spotlight. He dealt with jealous opponents and resentment even from teammates. But he also delivered on the field. He was Rookie of the Year in 2012 and won MVP awards in 2015 with the Nationals and 2021 with the Phillies.

Last week, after authoring another in a string of Mr. October-worthy moments to push the Phillies into the National League Championship Series, Harper conceded that he grew up with a level of pressure unmatched by even the glare of MLB’s postseason.

Maybe it will help Sullivan that he will be playing in his hometown. He joined the Union’s academy when he was 10 and will get to continue to develop on the field in MLS while living at home with his family.

It’s unclear when Sullivan will make his Union debut. But if it’s on or before July 29, he will be the youngest player to make his MLS debut — five years younger than Harper when he played his first game for the Nationals at Dodger Stadium 12 years ago.

The more Harper learned about Sullivan’s story, the more awestruck he seemed. He has three children now, and said his oldest, 4-year-old son Krew, has become a Flyers fan. Perhaps they’ll attend a game at Subaru Park when Sullivan takes the field for the Union.

“Fourteen, I mean, being able to do what he does, it’s incredible, right?” Harper said. “For him to get to where he wanted to be, playing with the A-team, I hope that he has an incredible career. Because, I mean, what a great story for not just him and his family but Philadelphia as a whole.

“I wish him all the best because it can be a tough situation to be in. But as long as he’s good and he’s loving it, then I’m all about it.”

» READ MORE: The Phillies’ young core has helped form MLB’s deepest roster. Just like Bryce Harper wanted.

Extra bases

J.T. Realmuto returned to the lineup, as expected, after sitting out three games with a sore right knee. … Trea Turner (hamstring) hit indoors and fielded grounders. He has been out since May 3 and said he expects to miss at least six weeks. … Reliever Yunior Marte (shoulder) threw 25 pitches in the bullpen. … Taijuan Walker (3-0, 4.82 ERA) is slated to start Thursday night against Mets lefty José Quintana (1-4, 5.44).

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