Before every game, the Mariners have hitters’ meetings, pitchers’ meetings, coaches’ meetings, a meeting with the starting pitcher, the catcher and the pitching coach and individual meetings as well.
But on Saturday afternoon, there were meetings unlike any before. No, this wasn’t one of those closed-door players-only meetings called by veteran leaders when the team is in the midst of a losing streak or a stretch of poor and disinterested play.
No, these meetings, which featured one for the coaching staff, one for the players and staff at the alternate training site and another for players on the active roster, were about education and science, definitely not big subjects in a typical MLB clubhouse. Specifically, the meeting was held for players to learn about the COVID-19 vaccines and the real information about them.
It featured Dr. Vin Gupta and Dr. Santiago Neme of the University of Washington presenting information and answering questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and their effects.
During spring training a few players mentioned to Mariners chairman John Stanton about possibly getting some information about vaccines and talking with someone who could answer their questions.
Since the Mariners were partnering with UW to help get COVID vaccines to underserved communities in the region, it wasn’t difficult to get Gupta, a cardio pulmonary surgeon, who serves as an affiliate assistant professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and Neme, a clinical assistant professor in Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases in UW’s Department of Medicine, to come to T-Mobile Park to try to provide answers from a scientific standpoint. Gupta, a prominent voice about COVID-19, was one of three community members to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day.
“I thought Dr. Gupta, today, was fantastic,” said manager Scott Servais, who received his second vaccine shot Friday. “Obviously, these guys know their stuff, the numbers and the data, they’re the true doctor, scientists and the science and the numbers don’t lie in the value of getting that vaccine.”
Based on a memo issued by Major League Baseball, if a team has 85% of the people in Tier 1 — players on the active roster and at the alternate training site, coaches, training staff, select support staff — fully vaccinated then some of the stringent COVID-19 guidelines and protocols can be relaxed. That includes no masks required in the dugout, group gatherings at the hotel and in workouts, ability to eat out at restaurants and use taxis or rideshares at home and on the road.
Are the Mariners close to reaching that 85% threshold, which Servais has said is a competitive advantage to teams because of those relaxed protocols?
“We’ve got some work to do to get to that 85%,” Servais admitted. “It’s something that’s really important. It does change your life in our lifestyle and how we travel and what we do in the clubhouse and in the dugout, and things like that throughout the course of the game. Hopefully we can get there.”
An MLB source doesn’t think the Mariners will get to the threshold with more than 40% either skeptical about the vaccine or adamantly against receiving it based on religious, personal or political beliefs.
The Mariners as an organization cannot force or even pressure players into receiving the vaccine without feeling heat from the MLB Players Association. They can only provide information when requested like having Dr. Gupta and Dr. Neme come to the park.
“It is an individual decision, and I certainly need to respect that,” Servais said. “I have my personal views and that’s fine. We all have a right to have personal opinions on things. What you’re trying to do is just educate young people for them to make good choices. And that’s all we’re trying to do here is get as much information in front of people and it’s not things that they’re picking up off YouTube videos and things like that. These are real scientists. They’re living it every day and they have been since day one when the virus showed up in this country. We do a good job educating people. I trust our guys will make good decisions and hopefully we can get to the 85% mark.”
Servais felt like Dr. Gupta’s ability to communicate with the players was a big bonus.
“When you’re talking to young people, you’ve got to connect with them,” Servais said. “He did an outstanding job with the staff. I wasn’t in the entire player meeting that he had, but my understanding of that was that he was just fantastic. The little bit that I did hear, I thought his answers to things were put in a way that players could clearly understand them. And if you’re in that room, listening to him and knowing his experience, and the information he has about the virus, what it has done and where it’s at currently, I think is the big thing, not just here in Washington, but throughout the country and throughout the world. It was pretty enlightening for our guys.
Enlightening enough to change the skeptics, nonbelievers and anti-vaxxers?
“I don’t know how you come out of that meeting and not think ‘wow, that guy, he knows his stuff, and he’s probably somebody I can trust and listen to.’ I thought it was very impactful.”
- Kyle Lewis (knee bone bruise) is expected to play in at least one of the two games against the Dodgers to close out the homestand.
- The Mariners will start lefty Nick Margevicius on Sunday in the series finale vs. Houston and then come back with lefty Justus Sheffield on Monday to open against the Dodgers. Marco Gonzales will pitch Tuesday in the series finale while Justin Dunn will pitch Thursday when the Mariners open an eight-game road trip in Boston.