PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper should be in Philadelphia on Monday with the rest of his Phillies teammates. They should be preparing for a two-game series against the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park.
Instead, he is home in Las Vegas. It feels strange.
“You feel like you should be somewhere else right now,” Harper said Friday. “That’s the weirdest thing. I think that was the biggest thing about us leaving Florida [last month]. I didn’t feel right leaving because I felt like I was doing myself a disservice because I wanted to be ready for myself and my team, just in case they were like, ‘OK, it’s not that bad, actually, so come back.’ But once we figured out that this was bigger than baseball and bigger than all of us and we understood our health as individuals and as a country, trying not to spread the virus and not spread it to anybody on our team or our loved ones or anything like that, we just decided to come home.”
The 2020 season has been postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Harper family is doing its part, staying home and exercising social distancing. Harper runs to the grocery store about once a week. He works out at home.
The Harpers know others are less fortunate, so they announced last week that they have donated $500,000 to Direct Relief, Three Square and Philabundance to help people in need in Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
“You know, with all the people that don’t know when their next meal is going to be, know when they can go to the grocery store and actually get food or shop, looking at their kids and kind of freaking out that they can’t do anything for them,” Harper said, “just having a family of my own, being able to do these things that we’re able to do, that was the least I could do. It’s something that we really thought about. We’re so fortunate to be able to do that. Why not help out? Especially in a time like this.”
The Harpers remained in Clearwater, Fla., for a short time after Major League Baseball cancelled Spring Training and postponed the beginning of the season. Most of the team planned to remain in Florida and work out.
But plans changed. Spectrum Field and Carpenter Complex are closed, other than for a few players recovering from injuries. Teammates today remain in contact through text messages.
“We’re pretty much on our own right now so we’re just trying to hear from our government about when everything is going to open up,” Harper said. “I think we’re all playing a waiting game … and I think that’s going to take some time. Once everybody realizes that this is really, really serious and we all need to stay inside and social distance and things like that, then hopefully … we can bring sports back into the world and hopefully heal a little bit, like years past with a lot of the things that have happened in this country.”
Baseball is not far from Harper’s mind. It is his livelihood. The Phillies and catcher J.T. Realmuto have paused contract negotiations. The closer Realmuto gets to the winter, the more inclined the potential free agent might be to wait and hit the open market.
“I think we have a long ways to go on that,” he said. “I think the Phillies organization absolutely loves J.T. and our team absolutely loves him as well. He’s the best catcher in baseball. He’s a great person. He’s a great family man. He’s a guy that we need in our clubhouse. I think the Phillies fans understand that as well. Us as an organization, we have to understand that he’s going to help us in the years to come and if you want the best catcher in baseball then we’ll make that happen. But at this time of course it’s shut down, but I don’t think anybody should fear us not getting J.T. back. I want him more than anything, so I mean it’s something we need to make happen as an organization. But you know when that time comes then [general manager Matt] Klentak and [managing partner John] Middleton will make that decision and hopefully he’s back in Phillies red.”
Harper said he hopes to play as many games as possible this season, but he knows there are bigger things at stake than baseball.
“First and foremost it’s the health of everybody in this country,” he said. “This is something that is really serious. We can’t just think about ourselves in this situation and us getting back to playing baseball because we want to. Of course, I think there’s a lot of people out there that miss their sports and you miss the competition and things like that, but you also have an opportunity to keep spreading it and it coming back and things like that, so I mean, it’s really serious. We need to think about our neighbors, our elderly and our parents. … As of right now there’s nothing we can really do and we’ve just got to wait until our government kind of tells us what to do. Once Major League Baseball and the union can solidify something and figure that all out, then we’ll get back. But right now we need to come together as a country and do what we can as individuals and citizens and try to help out as much as much as possible.”