Most daily pregame media sessions — in person or via video conference — with a baseball team’s manager are relatively free of emotion. Standard questions about player performance, injuries, bullpen availability and season trends usually are common topics, none of which generate much in the way of passionate reaction.
But in the pregame media session Monday, the subject of vaccinations for players and staff came up for the third consecutive day, and Mariners manager Scott Servais announced there would be nurses on site following the Mariners’ homestand finale against the Dodgers on Tuesday afternoon. Players and staff, who are considered Tier 1, can get their first dose of the vaccine after the game. Tier 1 includes players on the active roster and at the alternate training site, coaches, training staff and select support staff.
In the midst of the conversation there was a noticeable change in Servais’ tone and voice. It wavered a few times as he talked about the importance of receiving the vaccine for overall health but also how it could possibly affect the team if a player tested positive for COVID-19.
There also was more than a strong tinge of hopelessness in his voice, perhaps knowing that the Mariners likely won’t get to the 85% threshold of full vaccination of people in Tier 1 where COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines might be relaxed.
“You have to get to 85% in the Tier 1 group, which includes all the players, coaches, and kind of the traveling party around the team,” he said. “And we are not close to 85% based on initial polling or seeing where players are. So I’m a little concerned. I was hoping it would be closer to the 85%.”
Servais received his second vaccination Friday morning. And Saturday, the Mariners brought two of the leading physicians working with pandemic-related issues, Dr. Vin Gupta and Dr. Santiago Neme, who both work for the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, to hold multiple informational meetings for various groups in Tier 1. They answered questions and tried to provide education and legitimate information about the COVID-19 vaccine with so much misinformation permeating social media sites.
“What you’re trying to do is just educate young people for them to make good choices,” Servais said Saturday. “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.”
But even with that information, MLB sources believe that almost half of the Mariners players in Tier 1 will refuse to be vaccinated if immediately offered. The reasons vary from personal beliefs, philosophical beliefs or fear.
Servais has said often that “it’s just the right thing to do” for the health of people and those close to them. But from a baseball standpoint, there are benefits if players get vaccinated. MLB issued a memo saying teams that reach 85% threshold of full vaccination would have standards and guidelines relaxed. The ability to use taxis or rideshares to go to restaurants on the road, being in the dugout without a mask and the ability to gather in groups in the hotel are all benefits.
But perhaps the biggest aspect is that a player who reaches full vaccination — two weeks after his second shot — does not have to quarantine if they are part of a contact trace of a person who tests positive. And teams with 85% vaccination threshold don’t have automatic quarantines on contact traces.
The Phillies had three players placed on the COVID-19 injured list after being contact traced to a positive test from a coach. Similar issues have hit the Twins and the Astros, who were without starters Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Martin Maldonado for the recent series in Seattle that the Mariners won.
“They’re losing players that are not testing positive,” Servais said. “If you have one positive test, and you are in close proximity to that player or that teammate, anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, you now have lost seven to 10 days, you are out. So it’s not, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna get it.’ It’s are you close to anybody that could get it or is testing positive? And if that’s the case, then you are taken out of action. And that’s what’s happening to different teams.”
In conversations with the Astros coaches, Servais was told they could’ve been without even more players for the series, but they were fully vaccinated and allowed to play.
“The Astros could have lost four to five more players than the ones they already did lose if those other players had not been vaccinated,” Servais said. “They were lucky that those players were vaccinated.”
MLB hasn’t released official information on which teams have reached the 85% level. Though reporting out of St. Louis has the Cardinals being cleared.
“I think the last I heard there are 10 teams that at 85%,” Servais said. “And there’s some others that are creeping closer to that.”
While the Major League Baseball Players Association is pushing for players to get vaccinated, it is hyper aware of teams trying push vaccines on players who are resistant to receiving it.
Servais has been more vocal and frank about the situation than most managers who don’t want to come close to that line. He’s stressed that it’s an individual decision for each player.
“But I think everybody needs to understand all the facts,” he said. “I commend Major League Baseball and the Players Association for obviously taking this very serious and they’ve got to do the right thing. But it’s really kind of taken out of your hands and you could have done nothing wrong. You can be following all the rules. You wear a mask and you’re doing everything the right way. But if you just happen to be sitting next to somebody on an airplane or his locker is next to you.”
With vaccination available to everyone over age 16 in Washington, players or staff who choose not to get it Tuesday can still get it later and have it count toward the threshold.
“Even if we start with the first vaccine tomorrow, we all know how it works,” he said. “If you get a shot, you wait three weeks down the road, you get your second shot, and then two weeks after that is when you’re clear. So we’re a ways out yet.”
Kyle Lewis set to return
Kyle Lewis played five innings of an intrasquad game at the alternate training site Monday morning. It was the final test before being activated before the game Tuesday against the Dodgers.
“He felt really good coming out of the game today,” Servais said. “He is all-systems go for tomorrow unless he would come in completely sore or something, we are expecting him out there tomorrow.”
Lewis has been on the 10-day injured list since the start of the season after suffering a bone bruise on his right knee while colliding with a wall during one of the last Cactus League games of spring training.