As ballparks across the country return to full capacity and mask mandates are scrapped, MLB’s focus on pandemic precautions has broadened. Player vaccinations remain an emphasis, but the scope has widened to include a push to vaccinate fans.
Through the league’s “Vaccinate at the Plate” initiative, each of the 30 MLB teams are hosting at least one vaccination event — with the incentive of free tickets for those who receive the shot.
At Nationals Park, for instance, fans can get two tickets to Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 100-level. The Orioles will host an event at Dempsey’s Brew Pub & Restaurant along the Eutaw Street promenade from Friday to Wednesday, when the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros are in town. Fans who receive the vaccine will be given a voucher for two tickets, redeemable for any game through July 11.
“We are grateful to the Orioles and the MLB for their support of the state’s vaccination efforts and for stepping up to the plate to help more Marylanders and fans get vaccinated,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement.
The urge to get more fans vaccinated comes as restrictions ease at ballparks. Nationals Park opened to full capacity last weekend, and fully vaccinated fans don’t need to wear masks any longer. A team spokesperson said it’s an honor system regarding masks; fans aren’t checked for vaccination records.
That’s part of what has rankled Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, who told the Chicago Tribune that MLB should be more concerned about fans being at risk rather than the players who are frequently tested. He hasn’t been vaccinated, joining teammate Anthony Rizzo as Cubs who have publicly stated they haven’t received a shot.
MLB offers less restrictive coronavirus protocols once teams reach the 85% vaccination threshold, but the Cubs haven’t reached that mark — and Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in May the team might not.
“It’s disappointing to not be at 85% as a team,” Hoyer said in May (via ESPN). “We’ve worked hard to try and convince or educate the people that have been reluctant. We’re at a place right now — I’m not going to give up hope we’re going to get there — my level of optimism is waning. It is disappointing.”
Chicago is one of eight teams yet to reach the vaccination threshold, but Heyward isn’t concerned about that. Baltimore and Washington are among the 22 clubs to reach or surpass the 85% mark.
“There’s concern about players,” Heyward told the Chicago Tribune, “[but] there needs to be more concern about people on the outside, the people in the stands, the 100% sitting next to each other that aren’t getting tested the way we are getting tested and say they’re vaccinated or not — if they’re concerned.”
For Washington, Tuesday’s vaccination event won’t require an appointment. The walk-up clinic will open at 1st St., SE and Potomac Ave., SE, near the first base entrance to Nationals Park, with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots available for people from the District, Maryland and Virginia between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The Orioles and Nationals have held other coronavirus-prevention events, too. In May, the Nationals offered a prize bag featuring bobbleheads, face masks and other team merchandise to the first 200 people who get vaccinated at a walk-up site. The Orioles have offered free coronavirus testing at Camden Yards since late April.
Baltimore has also expressed a desire to reach a 100% vaccination rate within the organization, spanning beyond players to staff members. When Heyward considers inner-organizational objectives like those, though, he pointed to what he believes is a double standard, with pressure placed on players to vaccinate when there are less stringent rules for fans.
“There’s still someone coming to a game who didn’t get vaccinated, sitting around other people who are vaccinated or not vaccinated, not wearing a mask,” Heyward said. “There’s still people getting in movies, still people going out, they’ll be at Lollapalooza, they’ll be at the freaking air show, not vaccinated, not wearing a mask, doing whatever they want to do.”