When the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine reaches the Washington Nationals, expect manager Dave Martinez to be in line. In a video conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Martinez said that he will “definitely be on that waiting list and welcome” the vaccine.
D.C. received its first shipment of the vaccine on Monday. Those doses went to healthcare personnel. Next in line will be residents of long-term care facilities, while the general public will likely need to wait until the spring for the vaccine to be broadly distributed.
The Nationals are tentatively scheduled to begin spring training on Feb. 17, but MLB owners and executives have expressed interest in delaying the season.
“When it’s our turn to take the vaccine and they offer it to me, I’ll take it,” Martinez said. “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I can tell you, I had some family members who had COVID. I wish they had the vaccine already for them, but I will definitely be on that waiting list and welcome it.”
On the conference call, Martinez, who is 56 and underwent a heart procedure in September 2019 after experiencing chest pains, added that he was speaking for himself, and that he would not be requiring or recommending his players get the vaccine. More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 this year.
“In course of a year, you deal with 40, 50, 60 different personalities,” Martinez said. “Everybody thinks differently. It’s how they feel, [if] they want to take it. For me, when my turn comes around, and they want to offer me the vaccine, I’m going to take it. I want to be safe. If they deem that it’s really safe and I feel like it is safe, then yeah, I’ll get in line just everybody else and wait my turn, and take the vaccine. But that’s an individual preference to me, and that’s the way I’m going to treat it with every player. It’s your choice. That’s the beautiful thing about this country is that we can make those kind of choices.”
A reporter asked in a follow-up question if Martinez would feel safe if his players refused to take a vaccine.
“I’ll wear a mask,” Martinez replied with a laugh.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that MLB executives and owners want players to be vaccinated prior to spring training and would like spring training to be delayed. The Major League Baseball Players Association, Nightengale continues, wants the season to start on time and all 162 games played with full pay.
This past season, the MLB opted not to use a bubble system like the NBA or NHL and experienced several COVID-19 outbreaks at the beginning of the 60-game season, which led to dozens of rescheduled games. The Nationals did not have a large COVID-19 outbreak (although Juan Soto did test positive, which he later said he believed to be a false positive) but struggled to recapture their magic from the 2019 World Series championship campaign and finished the season with a 26-34 record, missing the playoffs.
Their strength entering 2021 remains their starting pitching rotation with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. General manager and president Mike Rizzo spoke Tuesday about needing to add offensive production, in particular to the middle of the lineup.
“I think our top priority in our searches via the free agent market and even the trade market is trying to get a bat to fill in the middle lineup, to complement the rest of our middle of the lineup bats,” he said.
As for the COVID-19 protocols, Martinez and Rizzo both believe the players are ready to do what the league asks of them.
“We all learned a lot about the pandemic and the protocols,” Martinez said. “For me and our club, we were awesome. Our guys were awesome. We made our own protocols, and they stuck to it. We basically put ourselves in our own bubble, and they were good with it. If that’s the way we have to start, they understand it now. They’ll go through it again in order to play.”