CLEVELAND -- Though Progressive Field remains oddly quiet in these difficult days, the Indians’ uniforms are in use by the hometown team. It’s a different team and a very different opponent, but it’s a reminder of how sports help pull people together.
In the ongoing fight against COVID-19, caregivers, vendors and visitors at Cleveland Clinic’s regional hospitals in northeast Ohio have been wearing protective cloth masks that were made from the materials typically used in the creation of the Tribe’s gameday jerseys. Roughly 15,000 of the masks were donated to the Clinic earlier this month by Fanatics, the manufacturer of Major League Baseball’s official uniforms.
“Something about this connects at a very primal level,” said Simrit Sandhu, chief supply chain officer for the Cleveland Clinic. “It makes us feel like members of our community.”
In March, Fanatics halted jersey assembly and began using its 360,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Easton, Pa., to create masks and gowns from the MLB materials. Fanatics and MLB combined on a $3 million donation to create up to 1 million masks and gowns.
The masks are non-surgical grade, single-use masks. At a time when the public at large is discouraged from buying medical-grade masks that are desperately needed by those on the front lines of the pandemic fight, these masks are compliant with the Centers for Disease Control recommendations for cloth face coverings in public settings while preserving important resources.
“While not personal protective equipment, they help with social distancing and helps prevent others from becoming infected by you,” Sandhu said. “When you wear a cloth mask and do all the safe things like hand hygiene and social distancing, we believe this can be one way in which the community and caregivers can participate in controlling the spread of the disease.”
Initially, Fanatics used Phillies and Yankees jerseys to make the masks, with distribution in Philadelphia. The project has since expanded to other states (including Ohio, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana and California) and involved other team jerseys.
“Since we launched this program, it has had an incredible reach, and we’re excited about the involvement of the Clinic and the state of Ohio,” said Brandon Williams, director of global communications for Fanatics. “We’ve picked areas where we have a presence, and Ohio has one of our largest fulfillment centers [in Frazeysburg].”
With a large campus in Cleveland and hospitals and family health centers throughout northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic itself has a large reach. And with no shortage of Indians fans working for or visiting the Clinic, the masks have brought some smiles in an otherwise difficult time.
“Our caregivers love wearing them,” Sandhu said. “And it makes us feel like [the Indians] are rooting for us. It helps us realize we are not alone in this.”
Fanatics has produced roughly 300,000 masks for facilities nationwide so far. Sandhu said Fanatics has committed to sending the Cleveland Clinic more masks, but the Clinic has requested that Fanatics reach out to other facilities, as well.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the outreach we’ve had, and we want to be responsible,” Sandhu said. “We’ve asked [Fanatics] to partner with those who have not been contacted by donors – nursing homes and smaller facilities. I appreciate the Clinic’s ability to connect them with individuals that don’t have those avenues.”