How Bryce Harper made a 14-year-old fan’s day with heart disease
On Saturday afternoon, Mason Strickland sat patiently in his wheelchair on the dirt at Citizens Bank Park in 90-degree heat, hoping to catch a glimpse of his hero. Getting to Philadelphia wasn’t easy, but not much is for Strickland, a 14-year-old Phillies fan from Utah who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. At the age of 2, he underwent a heart transplant. When he was 10, he had a stroke and lost his ability to walk. Every four hours he has to take 12 medications. It’s not a seventh-grader’s idea of a good time.
But Mason refused to let his condition define him. He played youth baseball until he couldn’t walk. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest player, but he was the most passionate. He played right field because his favorite player, Bryce Harper, played right field. He’s not able to do that anymore, but if Harper is in a game, Mason will watch him.
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That’s why he traveled over 2,000 miles from Utah to Philadelphia with his parents, Mark and Summer: to see his hero perform in person. Mason showed up prepared. He wore his Phillies headband and a Harper jersey, with a second Harper jersey draped over his wheelchair, in case anyone wondered who he was there to see. The Stricklands are friends with Dale Murphy and David Studdard, who know Harper personally. Studdard texted Mark a few days ago to let him know he had gotten passes so the family could watch batting practice. What Mark didn’t realize was that Harper had been contacted by Murphy and intended to pay Mason a surprise visit.
The 2021 NL MVP walked up the steps with his arms full of gear and a smile on his face.
“Are you excited for the game? I have batting gloves for you,” he said. “A cuff, a wrist guard, a bat, cleats…”
Then he looked down.
“I like your shoes,” he said, pointing to Mason’s Jordans.
“I don’t like your socks very much.”
Mason smiles. He wore blue Dodger socks. The two talked for a few minutes. Harper signed all the material he had given, then crouched down to meet Mason at eye level. He punched her, shook Mark’s hand, and spent the rest of the day.
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“These guys get approached all the time, and we just appreciate him being so nice,” Mark said. “It means a lot. You never think you’re going to be in this situation, and Bryce has little kids. He gets it. That’s what a lot of people don’t see in these guys: that they’re also fathers.
Mason was more concise. He summed up his thoughts in one word.
Harper was back in the lineup on Saturday, having missed five days after her platelet-rich plasma injection. He said he took swings on Wednesday and Friday and will take some on Saturday.
“It feels good,” he said. “I think today was the day that we kind of planned for now. The last two days have been tough for me, but I woke up yesterday feeling great and today feeling fine. better too.