Harper raring 'to get back to it' -- and air high five

July 3rd, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- scrolled through the National League East and the American League East rosters when he learned the Phillies will play teams exclusively in those divisions during the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season.

He found 14 potential Cy Young Award winners.

“That’s crazy,” Harper said following Friday’s first workout at Citizens Bank Park. “I’m so excited to get back to it. I’m excited for the task, and I think our whole team is. I think this year is definitely going to be one for the ages, and I can’t wait. I can’t wait to get out there and play our game.”

The Phillies took their first step with Friday’s inaugural Summer Camp workout at both the Bank and FDR Park, the latter of which sits across Broad Street in South Philadelphia. The club is scheduled to play Opening Day on July 23 or 24. Harper expressed his enthusiasm, even though he knows COVID-19 remains a threat to everything. Harper will be playing in ballparks without fans and will be expected to socially distance from his teammates.

“It’s going to be a challenge for everyone,” he said. “But you have to remember, you’re playing for your teammates. You’re playing for the fans who are watching at home. They’re probably as excited as all to get to watch you play. I’m going to play my same game, still going to pump my fist, still going to play as hard as I can, because they’re going to be doing that at home. [At] 7:05, 1:05 or 4:05, they’re going to be watching us at home, so they deserve my best. And my teammates do, too."

But social-distancing measures will bring about some obvious changes, especially in the way of celebrations.

“I think the air high five is going to come back and be the coolest thing in baseball this year and be the coolest thing in sports," Harper said. "So all of our handshakes are going to be air high fives and air slaps and things like that. It’s going to be different. We just have to transition the best we can and keep everyone safe to the best of our ability and transition to a new style of game to the best of our ability.”

Keeping everybody safe might be more difficult than hitting a Jacob deGrom slider. Harper knows it. Others do, too. Angels outfielder Mike Trout expressed his reservations Friday about trying to play during the COVID-19 pandemic with his wife due to deliver their first child in August. Harper and his wife Kayla had their first son last August, and the couple is expecting a daughter in December.

“I feel safe right now,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to do everything possible to prevent anything from happening -- if that's ordering groceries to come to the house, if that's staying six feet apart if I do go outside, if it is wearing a mask or anything like that. So I understand why certain individuals will be possibly not very optimistic about this or just don't feel comfortable. I was definitely in that boat as well before I came here thinking to myself, 'Should we go? Is this something that's going to happen? Is something bad going to happen to my pregnant wife or my child or anybody else in the clubhouse or even our media or somebody else?'

"This is just something that we all have to get used to a little bit and try to do the best we can with the parameters that we do [have]. If that is wearing masks or staying socially distanced apart, we just have to do that to the best of our ability."

Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Thursday that he needs his veterans to set an example for everybody in the clubhouse.

That means making sure players remain vigilant outside the park.

That means not going to restaurants and bars and putting themselves at risk. Seven Phillies already have tested positive for the virus.

“I think the team that transitions the quickest and understands what they have to do the quickest and understands the protocols the quickest is going to be the team that comes out on top,” Girardi said. “Because if you miss one guy or miss another guy, it could be your whole season.”