With the state of Texas making everyone 16 and older eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday, the Astros changed their travel plans prior to the start of the regular season and will fly to Houston following the conclusion of Monday’s Grapefruit League finale in West Palm Beach, Fla., to receive their vaccinations.
The Astros had originally been scheduled to fly directly to San Francisco from Florida in advance of Thursday’s regular-season opener at Oakland, but they changed their itinerary after they partnered with Methodist Hospital in Houston to get the vaccine. The type of vaccines to be given can’t be made public because of privacy laws.
“This came up so quick,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Fortunately for us, I think it’s a heck of thing for our players, heck of a thing for our city. Houston Methodist, they did some miraculous things for us.”
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, but it’s about the safety of this ballclub and our families,” veteran outfielder Michael Brantley said. “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.”
It’s not known how many players or staff members will elect to get the vaccines, which will be administered at Minute Maid Park later Monday. Players will get the vaccines first, followed by those staff members who work closely with the players, such as coaches and clubhouse personnel. Staff members who don’t work as closely with the players will be last to be inoculated. The Astros will work out at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday and then fly to California.
“We want to give as much time as possible in between shots in arms and getting back on a plane, because we can’t risk somebody having an adverse reaction at 35,000 feet,” general manager James Click said.
Major League Baseball, which laid out its health and safety protocols in February to help avoid the spread of the coronavirus, and the MLB Players Association encouraged players to get the vaccine, but they can’t make it mandatory.
“But I’m hoping more than a few get it, which would increase our odds of not catching it during the season,” said the 71-year-old Baker, who received the second dose of his COVID-19 vaccine in California just prior to the start of Spring Training.
Click said he plans to get the vaccine Monday after the rest of the players and staff have received theirs.
“I will be at the back of the line tonight if they have enough,” he said. “When everybody else gets [vaccinated], I’ll get it.”
Houston has had only one known positive test during spring camp. Veteran reliever Pedro Báez tested positive early in camp, which led to seven other pitchers being placed in quarantine. The Astros have three players -- center fielder Myles Straw, infielder Abraham Toro and catcher Garrett Stubbs -- being isolated while they await test results. Baker said they could be cleared later Monday but wouldn’t fly to Houston until Tuesday.
“We’re hoping we get positive news this afternoon,” Baker said.
The health and safety protocols the players have adhered to during Spring Training will remain in the regular season despite the vaccines, at least for now. Players are required to quarantine at home except for baseball activities with the team and travel. They can leave their home for medical care, grocery shopping, takeout food pickup, outdoor physical activity and outdoor dining.