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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Players who aren't seeking the COVID-19 vaccine . . . what are they thinking about?

Ralph Acquasanta of Rockville Centre receives his COVID

Ralph Acquasanta of Rockville Centre receives his COVID vaccine at Americare on March 10 in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp


Remember how mind-numbingly difficult it was to get that first vaccine appointment? For Grandpa, Mom, the uncle with the heart condition. For yourself, after waiting forever to get the green light from the state.

Maybe you’re still trying.

Now imagine if someone just showed up at your front door — needle in hand, ready to go — and you waved them away. Took a pass. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hard to wrap your brain around that one, isn’t it?

But that’s what Major League Baseball is dealing with at the outset of the 2021 season. Thanks to a near-miraculous scientific achievement, a year after the sport was shut down, we now have not one but a trio of vaccines that prevent people from dying or becoming seriously ill because of a COVID-19 infection.

And in the process, we even can avoid the postponement of baseball games, as the Mets experienced this week, thanks to a frustrating mini-outbreak among the Nationals that delayed the start of the season.

The only problem? The vaccine doesn’t work unless it gets into a player’s arm, or plenty of the other Tier 1 personnel, and evidently that’s not as simple as merely showing up with a syringe.

As of Friday, the Mets still were discussing the matter, even distributing a survey among players and staff to determine how many people would want the vaccine.

This is not mandatory. Nor should it be. But the choice seems fairly obvious when you consider how deadly and disruptive COVID-19 has been over the past year.

The players witnessed that firsthand during the 60-game season. And in case anyone thought the virus had just evaporated, the Mets have to wait an extra four days to play their first game because it’s still very much a threat.

After going through all of that, you’d think they’d be easy to convince. You’d be wrong.

"I really don’t know," J.D. Davis said Friday. "I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve been so focused on baseball and getting ready for the season. I’ve been concentrating on getting at-bats, getting my swing right, getting ready for defense, so I don’t really know. It’s a personal preference for me. This topic has kind of come up over the last couple of days or so with us moving from Florida to D.C., and I just haven’t sat down and really thought about it."

To be fair, Davis was the only Mets player available to field these questions Friday, and I doubt he’s alone in his uncertainty. It’s also possible that he ultimately will choose to be vaccinated.

There already have been three teams that didn’t hesitate when they became eligible for the shots. The Astros took a detour through Houston on their way to Oakland to be vaccinated at Minute Maid Park (Texas opened up to ages 16-plus on Monday). The Cardinals got the vaccine when they arrived in Cincinnati for their opening series against the Reds. The majority of the Tigers, according to manager AJ Hinch, received the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine in their Comerica Park clubhouse immediately after Thursday’s season-opening victory.

"It’s a tremendous opportunity, but it’s about the safety of this ballclub and our families," the Astros’ Michael Brantley told "We’ve been doing a lot of group sessions and we’ll keep that private, what we talked about, but we’re trying to get on the same page and make sure we have a healthy year. COVID is real. We respect it. We’re trying to stick to the protocols the best we can. It’s going to be a group effort."

For a traveling team that does everything together but sleep in the same room, the group element to this is obvious. Keeping everyone healthy is of paramount importance. But MLB also has tried to incentivize the players and staff by loosening some of the COVID-mandated restrictions if 85% of a team’s Tier 1 personnel get vaccinated.

The Cardinals have acknowledged they reached that threshold. But when I brought up MLB’s carrot to Davis, it didn’t seem to carry any influence.

"Not really," he said. "We’re a pretty close-knit group of guys. I know a lot of guys aren’t really getting the itch to go out and kind of, I don’t know, mingle or I would say outdoor dining or stuff like that, go to bars or go to restaurants and have that kind of normal lifestyle. We’re so focused on baseball right now and getting ready for the season.

"I know that is kind of an incentive if you were to take a step back and think about it. I think a lot more answers are going to be made or a lot of opinions are going to be made in the next week or so because there’s so much going on right now. Trying to be sensitive to the family and friends and especially to the loved ones that have passed and been taken by the virus, but at the same time, I know it’s a personal preference and everybody has their own choice of doing so."

On the one hand, I can appreciate Davis’ single-mindedness when it comes to doing his job over the next six or seven months. But on the other, his brushing off what the vast majority of people have been yearning to do during the past year — to achieve that sense of normalcy again — comes off as a bit too cavalier. That’s tough to stomach for the rest of us.

Every member of the Mets will become eligible to get vaccinated Tuesday when New York opens up to ages 16 and older. Citi Field is a mass vaccination site. There would seem to be a match here. Or at least an uncomplicated path to get to that 85% threshold, and by doing so, perhaps avoiding the virus-related stoppage that frustrated them this week in D.C.

Just think: If the Nationals already had been vaccinated, this season-opening mess could have been prevented, along with whatever serious health concerns that potentially may arise.

Isn’t that worth it?

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