A few days after going to a grocery store over the winter, Brent Suter, a Milwaukee Brewers helper, woke up feeling sick. As the day went on, he became tired and ached, and his back stiffened. He tested positive for the coronavirus the next day, and soon after, so did his wife. Suter, 31, said his lungs were inflamed and he lost his sense of smell and taste for two weeks. He stopped throwing out of season.
“I’ve been sicker in my life, but I’ve never been there for so long,” Suter said in a video press conference last week. He later added, “Not a fun 10 days.”
Given that experience, and after consulting with the team and independent doctors, Suter said the decision to stick out his right shoulder – his non-throwing arm, of course – for a Covid-19 vaccine was an easy one. Wearing masks and practicing social distancing are meant to contain the virus, he said, “but now we can beat this thing.”
The rollout of vaccinations is well underway and the Biden government has directed state, local and tribal governments to qualify all adults for Covid-19 vaccines by next Monday. But not everyone is ready to be vaccinated, including baseball players, despite additional incentives offered by their own union and league.
“I know a lot of the guys really don’t get the itch to really go out and talk or eat outside or go to bars or restaurants and have such a normal lifestyle,” said JD Davis, the Mets third baseman , something surprising that day after the season started. “We’re so focused on baseball right now.”
When asked if he would get a vaccine, Davis said he hadn’t thought about it much. But he called every decision he made a personal decision. The hesitation of several Mets teammates led team officials to schedule additional training sessions with doctors last week before offering the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in two doses on Thursday.
“We want as many players as possible to be vaccinated,” said Sandy Alderson, team president. “And that’s in the best interests of the team, it’s in the best interests of their families, it’s in the best interests of those who work with the players. So I hope that in addition to your personal medical considerations, you will consider all of these things. “
Much like the NBA, MLB and the players union recently dangled a carrot in front of teams, players and key personnel. On March 29, they sent them a three-page memorandum setting out how to relax strict health and safety protocols for vaccinated individuals and for teams reaching an 85 percent vaccination threshold.
Among the many rewards for people who are fully vaccinated (two weeks after the last dose): vaccinated people can gather again on team planes, trains, or buses (read: card games are back); Indoor gatherings without a mask or distancing with other vaccinated individuals are permitted outside of the team facilities. Virus tests can be reduced from every other day to twice a week. Vaccinated family or household members can stay overnight in the team hotel en route.
Among the many advantages for a team that reaches the vaccination mark: masks are no longer required in the shelter or in the bullpen; mandatory contact tracking sensors can be tossed aside; Eating in restaurants is allowed; Unvaccinated family or household members and vaccinated non-families can stay with players and staff in the team hotel. Common clubhouse activities (such as pool tables and video games) may return.
(Even fans get incentives: The Cincinnati Reds are offering $ 10 tickets to select games in April and May for people with evidence of at least one dose.)
While this won’t bring a full return to pre-pandemic life, it would be much closer to it than what players and key staff have seen since the start of the 2020 season.
“I’m ready to go back to normal,” Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer told reporters as his team faced a virus outbreak that broke a six-week streak of largely virus-free major league baseballs.
And when the Nationals’ regular season started five days later than expected, they were left without nine players who had either tested positive for the virus or were in close contact with infected teammates. Last year, major outbreaks at the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals almost derailed an already shortened regular season.
“We are very aware of how to get back to normal, how to keep our players healthy, and how to keep our community healthy to vaccinate as many people as possible,” said David Stearns, president of Brewers Baseball Operations last week.
He later added, “This benefits the game. The more players and people in our universe that can be vaccinated, the more assurances we have that our games will run smoothly throughout the season, and the faster we get back to the full houses at American Family Field. ”
So far, the Los Angeles Angels and the Cardinals are among the few teams that claim to have reached the 85 percent threshold. Before opening the season against the Reds, the Cardinals in Cincinnati received the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
Scherzer, who sits on a high-level union committee, couldn’t wait for his turn. “I tend to follow science,” he told reporters.
Other teams were optimistic about hitting the magic number. The Houston Astros, for example, made a pit stop in Texas after leaving spring training in Florida and before starting the regular season in Oakland to get vaccinated.
“I am confident that we will be far behind that 85 percent,” said Aaron Boone, manager of Yankees. Boone, who was vaccinated during spring training, said players and members of her tour party were offered the train at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which, if any, coincided with a day off on Thursday.
(Some players in the league missed the time after their shots. For example, Yankee’s third baseman Gio Urshela missed Friday’s game.)
Some teams weren’t sure they would reach the threshold. Philadelphia Phillies’ first baseman Rhys Hoskins said some teammates were dying to get a vaccine while others were on hold.
“It will probably be like that for the next few months,” he said. “It’s such a difficult situation just because everyone has their own opinion about it and it’s obviously such a polarizing topic not only in our game but also in our nation.”
David Ross, manager of the Chicago Cubs, told reporters the team continued to talk to players about the vaccines. While her vaccination percentage increased, he did not achieve the goal. Kaycee Sogard, the wife of Cubs infielder Eric Sogard, recently took to social media to criticize the incentives as pressure on players unwilling to get a vaccine.
While the league has been working on getting the players vaccinated, it has not made it mandatory. It was “very important” for the players to have the opportunity to make their own choices for themselves and their families, said Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, in a telephone interview. But he and the union, as well as the league and its teams, encourage the players to get the shots.
Several factors could explain the reluctance of the players. Most of them are white and they tend to be conservative in their politics. According to the Pew Research Center, demographics such as Republicans, Black Americans, and White Evangelicals were the least likely to receive a vaccine.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said in a phone interview that readiness to receive a vaccine improved at the school’s medical center and decreased misinformation related to it as the range targeted certain demographics . Discussions about a vaccine should be honest, free of judgment and emphasize responsibility.
“This is clearly an individual decision,” he said. “There are no mandates, but we hope everyone makes the best choice. Vaccines protect individuals as well as groups. These are communicable, contagious infections. And since these vaccines are 95 percent effective at best, you want everyone on the team and anyone closely related to the team to be protected. “
At the Brewers, Stearns declined to say what percentage of the team had been vaccinated, but said “a good part” had. What contributed to this? Suter said it was about conversations in the clubhouse about suspicions or concerns about the vaccines and a meeting where a team doctor answered anonymous questions. Mark Niedfeldt, a Brewers doctor, praised outfielder Christian Yelich and Suter for encouraging their teammates.
And when the Brewers joined Milwaukee officials in a public service campaign to highlight the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety, players like pitcher Freddy Peralta, infielder Keston Hiura, Suter and Yelich got Johnson & Johnson’s pre-shot admission Camera and talked about its importance.
“It’s a way of showing that I care about you,” Suter said in the video. Yelich said, “I look forward to getting back to normal life.”