Even though the trials have weighed on him, Desmond has tried his best to stay as normal as possible, boosted by the support of teammates, past teammates, coaches, friends and family. Though the two are enjoying starkly different seasons, Harper has noticed how Desmond behaves. Asked how Desmond has influenced him this season, Harper gave an extended answer.
“Just staying locked in every single day,” he said. “Not taking every day for granted, just play hard and things will happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re 4 for 4 for 0 for 4, every day is a new day and you come in and it doesn’t matter if you’re hitting .200 or .300, you can help the team win that night any way you can. Whether that’s in the outfield. Or you can strike out in the first inning, and third and fifth, but hit a double in the ninth to put your team ahead. Just try to go in with that mentality every single day and not worry about the at-bat whether it was a homer or a strikeout just go about your business the right way and enjoy it.”
Harper, 22, and Desmond, 29, talk and joke around daily. They sat near each other on the couches before games, laughing and watching television. Desmond calls Harper by the nickname “Big Kid.”
“He’s like my older brother,” Harper said. “He’s there for me whenever I need him. On or off the field. He’s awesome. His family is great. That’s what baseball is about, making relationships and enjoying things not just on the field but off the field. We’re not just baseball players. We’re people too. We have fun and enjoy what we do but there are bigger things in life than just baseball.”
Over the past week, Desmond has looked much improved at the plate. Since the start of the Mets series, Desmond is hitting .478 (11 for 23) with four home runs, seven RBI, seven strikeouts and four walks. He has hit the ball down the left field line, up the middle and to the opposite field. His head is more still in his swing and his body under more control. Recent words of encouragement from Cal Ripken Jr. also helped.
Desmond may be smiling more now because he is thrilled to contribute offensively after scuffling for much of three and a half months. But to his teammates, he has been the same person.
“That’s why he is one of the best in baseball,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best guys in this clubhouse. If things go well for him in the second half, it’s exciting. The things Cal Ripken said to him the other day about hitting .190 and then hitting .260 in the second half, that’s really helped Desi. The thing about Desi is that he’s got the same mentality every single day.
“If he’s 0 for 5 or 5 for 5, he’s got that same mentality. He’s having fun every single day and enjoying being in the big leagues. That’s the kind of guy you want next to your locker and playing next to you in the field. That’s a guy you want at the front of your clubhouse. We’re very blessed and thankful to have him in the way he acts and leads this team. He battles every single day. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way he does his business.”
Later that afternoon before Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh, the two leaned on the dugout railing before the team stretched, just the two hanging out together, watching the Pirates take batting practice.