CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper stopped short of calling Major League Baseball's decision to close clubhouses to non-essential personnel an overreaction, but he made it clear that he's not afraid of coronavirus.
"I live, man," the Phillies slugger said late Tuesday morning. "I don't worry about a disease or a virus. I live my life. I'm doing everything the same. I'm shaking people's hands, I'm high-fiving. I'm healthy. I'm 27. The people that are affected, it's a lot of older and maybe some young, as well. But I just live my life."
Per MLB edict, Harper spoke with reporters outside the Phillies' clubhouse and he kept a distance of about eight feet.
He made it clear that he was just following the rules and at one point seemed to acknowledge the absurdity of it all by saying he wouldn't hesitate to give one of the scribes a hug.
"You guys have a job to do," said Harper, who exited Tuesday's game after a first-inning HBP. "We have to understand you have to do a job. We need to talk to you, we need to. As of right now, I guess it's going to be out here, but hopefully in the near future you guys are back in there with us and we're just going on with our daily routine of talking to you guys.
"I think we're all in uncharted territory. We've never seen this. We've never done this. I think everybody is trying to do what is right, I guess you could say."
The clubhouse ban affects more than reporters. A couple of club officials who work at the minor-league complex were denied access to the big-league clubhouse Tuesday morning. MLB says the clubhouse ban will be temporary, but there's no timetable for it to be lifted.
"This is an evolving situation," Phillies club president Andy MacPhail said. "We'll deal with it the best we can and take our cues from the experts."
The clubhouse ban is clearly designed to protect players, but there are limits to what can be done. As one Phillies official said, "What about the other 18 hours in the day?" Harper said he has continued to go out in public. He mentioned going grocery shopping the other day and said he would not hesitate to go see a Golden Knights hockey game if he were at home in Las Vegas.
Teammate Rhys Hoskins had a similar outlook.
"I have not yet changed the way that I live," he said.
While MLB's edict to restrict access to the clubhouse attempts to protect the players, fans have not received the same consideration. They are still allowed to buy tickets, attend games, use ballpark restrooms and purchase concessions. Double standard?
"I can't really speak on that," Harper said. "That's Major League Baseball's decision. If they think the fans should be here, if they think they don't, then that's on Major League Baseball. As a player, I can't make that decision. If fans still want to come and watch us play, then we respect that. We want that. If they don't want to because they want to protect their families, I understand that, too. I have a family at home as well. There's no need for me to get sick or my family to get sick or my son, who was just born. I really don't know how to answer that. I'm sorry."
Harper loves to connect with the fans. But if the virus continues to spread, well, it's not out of the question that he could be bowing to empty seats in right field when the Phillies play their home opener April 2.
"That would definitely be different," he said. "It would be crazy. I love seeing them in the stands. I love when they're there. I love playing in front of them. But I want to protect them, as well. I want to protect us as a team, I want to protect us as individuals. Right now, what everyone's talking about how big it is, you have to start thinking a little bit bigger than just the team. The fans, everybody, you've got to think about everybody and not just yourself."
As for canceling games or altering the season, Hoskins, the team's union rep, has heard nothing about that.
"I haven't gotten to that point yet with all of this," he said. "It would be kind of hard for us to have that thought in our mind, especially at this point in spring training when we're getting so close. I don't want to speak for everyone in the clubhouse, but I would assume most guys have in their minds that it's going to be business as usual."
For Harper, it certainly is.
"I'm just doing my thing every single day, the same way," he said. "I go out to eat. I get in my car and drive to the field. I pick up baseballs in the cage. I feel safe in my clubhouse with the guys who are in there. If I cough up a lung then, I don't know, you know what I'm saying? I feel bad for the people that have been affected by it. No one wants to see anybody get sick. That's a bummer. But I'm healthy right now and I want to stay in a good mental state and just do my thing on the field. If it gets to the point where it gets really bad, then we'll figure it out from there."