Shortly after José Berríos used his right arm to help the twins beat the Seattle Mariners 10-2 in the team’s home opening game at Target Field on Thursday, he walked into the team’s family room at the stadium and pulled the jersey sleeve from his left arm and had a Cub Foods pharmacist prick it with a syringe.
Thursday was an important day for the twins, and not just because it was the first day in a year and a half that fans were back at Target Field. Much of the group received the one-off Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after the game, a huge step towards normalcy for the group.
« I want to go back to a normal life, » said Berríos. « It’s for our health – my family, my teammates, all of the Twins employees. »
The twins have teamed up with Cub Foods to offer the players, their families and staff the shot on Thursday. Two weeks later, vaccinated players will see some of the strict protocols they followed. Should the twins reach the 85 percent vaccination limit of all Tier 1 employees – players (both for the twins and at the alternate location), coaches, and a few other employees such as coaches – even more restrictions would be removed two weeks later.
Baseball Operations President Derek Falvey said Friday that 85 percent of Tier 1 have not yet been vaccinated, but he hopes the twins can get there. There are about 90 people in Tier 1, he said, which would mean about a dozen people could opt out of getting vaccinated and still hit that mark.
Tier 2 is 100 percent vaccinated or nearby. That group includes Falvey, who got his vaccine earlier this week but doesn’t count for the 85 percent mark.
« We’re pretty close, and some of this may happen because some of our players, and just the people around them, have decided that they won’t accept it, but that they are not quite ready yet, and still are. » some are person processing. But we’re really close to that brand, that line right now, ”said Falvey.
Thursday was a long time for the twins. The Medical Director and Director of High Performance, Dr. Chris Camp said the team went through vaccination scenarios back in December and what that might look like.
At one point, they had hoped the rollout could have been fast enough to allow gunshots to be carried out during spring training, Camp said. That obviously didn’t happen, so they quickly shifted their focus to when to get their recordings in Minnesota and waited for the eligibility to open to anyone 16 and older.
« For the Minnesota Twins and the other professional teams, not jumping over the line at all was a priority, » said Camp.
They also wanted to respect local demand and eventually found a date when Cub was in a situation where it could stand out when it would have enough doses to give the twins what they needed. The twins chose Thursday, the day before a rest day, to be admitted in case anyone experienced adverse side effects. Although the twins would have been fine with any of the three vaccines because all of them showed high levels of effectiveness, Falvey said they preferred the Johnson & Johnson shot over the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to avoid that the group may have side effects twice.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said Saturday morning that some players had minor side effects and one player had « a little more than minor symptoms » but after a day everyone was fine.
The awareness campaign took place before the twins had a solid plan. Camp said the twins started training in the spring by giving the players an introduction to the vaccine and asking questions.
That lasted until Thursday – and will continue for those who are still on the fence to get the shot. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have also recently circulated educational materials. Before Thursday’s game, Camp was one of the people who spoke to the group and was available to answer questions.
« Overall, the vast majority of players were very interested and willing and were vaccinated, » said Camp. “We certainly had some who had questions and we were available to them and we had a lot of great discussions and frank discussions about the pros and cons and the pros and cons and the risks and all of those things with these players too. Everyone was either open to it, or at least open to a very mature and educated discussion about it. »
Choosing the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice that will not be made by either the MLB or the twins. However, it is strongly encouraged with the promise to relax the strict protocols that players and staff have become accustomed to.
Two weeks after their first shot by Johnson & Johnson or the second shot by Pfizer and Moderna, vaccinated players can drop testing from every other day to twice a week if they wish. You can have your vaccinated family members with you on the go. The rules on close contact are less stringent, meaning vaccinated players don’t have to worry about being quarantined if they come into contact with the virus, as long as they don’t have symptoms. Another change is the wearing of masks in the park.
Should they hit 85 percent as a team, the benefits would be to remove the Kinexon contract tracking devices they have to wear and allow vaccinated players to dine indoors again, among other things.
Infielder Luis Arraez said he would « prefer the injection rather than spitting every other day » to get tested. Arraez, who revealed he had COVID-19 this off-season, is eager not to go through that experience again.
« I think if we all do it as a unit it will be better in the long run. To be honest, I’m a little tired of using the mask and all the protocols and things like that, ”Arraez said. « I do it for my family too, and I think it will help everyone in the long run. »
There were veteran players at the clubhouse who were big proponents of the vaccine, according to Camp, and helped allay some of the concerns raised by their teammates. Among them: Designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
« Nelson is a leader in every way and it was no different, » said Camp.
Baldelli, who got his shot Thursday, has also played a huge role in promoting messaging by medical staff.
« I said this this off-season, but I currently believe the world is a better place because of vaccines and because they protect people, » Baldelli said. « If we didn’t have vaccines, we’d be in a pretty ugly place in a lot of different ways, and I still feel that way. »
Even so, there were some who were decidedly against getting a vaccine. Among them, shortstop Andrelton Simmons tweeted in late March that he would not be vaccinated, saying he would not accept or endorse it « for personal reasons and previous experience ».
While the twins are unlikely to change the shortstop’s mind, Falvey said there is still a group on the fence taking the vaccine, and for that group they plan to educate themselves and answer questions.
« If you have specific reasons why you don’t want to receive it, it is a very individual decision. But if you are someone who hesitates because you lack a little information about it, then I think it is To some extent our responsibility to help him get that information and ultimately make the informed decision he will make in the future, « Falvey said.
That won’t stop once they hit 85 percent if they still believe there are still people open to learning about the benefits of the vaccine, Falvey said. Their focus is on continuing to get players to see this as something that will be valuable to them from a health standpoint, he said.
After all, this is the path they see back to normal – back to focusing on the sport they all love.
“We all want to get back to normal. As normal as we can. So that’s the plan for most of my team-mates and me, including my family, « Cruz said before taking his shot. « Either way, we have less time to do masks and tests and all that and all protocols and focus more on what’s more important: baseball games. »
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