Last we heard from Bryce Harper, he mentioned waiting in the checkout line at a supermarket in Florida and overhearing a conversation about how maybe that wasn’t the safest place to be.
“The person in front of me was saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m buying groceries right now,’ ” the Phillies star right fielder said then, chuckling. “And I’m like, ‘OK, you still have to eat.’ ”
Like the rest of us, Harper knows so much better now.
In these times of fear and uncertainty, self-quarantining and Zoom chats, there’s no such thing as being too careful. You can’t overreact to a global pandemic. And the only way to defeat the coronavirus is to do as the medical experts say: stay at home and take every precaution.
The gravity of it all isn’t lost on Harper. Not anymore. Major League Baseball suspended spring training on March 12, and shortly thereafter, he left Florida with his wife, Kayla, and 7-month-old son, Krew, retreating to their Las Vegas home. Ever since, they have followed along as COVID-19 spreads and the death toll rises.
“We watch the news just like everybody else,” Harper said by phone. “We see how the country is going and how many people have been affected.”
Last week, the Harpers did their part to help. They donated $500,000 to Direct Relief and Three Square in Las Vegas and Philabundance here to benefit people who are losing their jobs.
Other athletes have made similar overtures. Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander announced he will donate his paychecks during baseball’s shutdown — approximately $33,000 per week — to charities. Sixers star Ben Simmons enlisted other athletes in the city in the “Philly Pledge” to support coronavirus relief efforts.
“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 freaking out that they can’t do anything for them, that was the least I could do,” Harper said. “Hopefully it helps a lot of people out, helps them through a hard time, and puts a smile on their face. Give them a little bit of happiness and less stress in their life with what’s going on.”
Harper’s stresses pale by comparison. There is uncertainty, though.
With baseball on hiatus and no return in sight, Harper said he’s training as though it’s early in the offseason, scaling back his workouts to three or four times per week with the hope of ramping up baseball activities soon enough.
For now, though, that’s wishful thinking. The most optimistic outlook is a mid-May resumption of spring training and opening day in early June. But the spread of the virus has not yet peaked, according to medical experts, and the health risks associated with playing games even in empty ballparks have left the entire season in jeopardy.
“I think everybody wants to play as many games as we can, but first and foremost it’s the health of everybody in this country," Harper said. "This is something that is really serious. We can’t just think about ourselves in this situation and getting back to playing baseball because we want to. I think there’s a lot of people that miss their sports and [athletes] miss the competition. But you also have an opportunity to keep spreading it and it coming back.
“We need to think about our neighbors, our elderly and our parents. Once this all blows over and we can get back into baseball then that will be on the forefront of our minds. I think we’re all playing a waiting game of when they’re going to open things up and when the orders are all going to go away, and I think that’s going to take some time.”
Harper won’t bore you, then, with ideas that might appeal to him about how MLB can pack as many games as possible into a shortened season. He’s willing to play into November, even if it means holding the World Series at a neutral site. But it’s probably best to table that conversation for another day.
In the meantime, Harper is hunkering down with Kayla and Krew, adhering to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s order for the state’s 3 million residents to stay at home through at least April 30.
Harper is taking it so seriously that he’s even learning to cook. He recently ordered steaks from former Washington Nationals teammate Adam LaRoche’s meat company, consulted a friend at Traeger Grills and the internet for the best dry rub, and apparently morphed into a regular Gordon Ramsay.
“I mean, I was shocked at how good it was,” Harper said. "[Kayla] was like, ‘I don’t know. We’ll see.’ Then she ate it and she was like, ‘Holy moly.’”
It sure beats venturing out to the market.