With COVID now an American institution along the lines of hot dogs and baseball, stories about rising case counts, new variants, and unvaccinated athletes tend to go unnoticed. If you’re waiting for masks to go away before you go on vacation, you’re never going to leave your house. Anti-vaxxers bristle about being persecuted so much that it’s easier to walk away from your uncle Gary than to argue with him.
It feels like the number of exhausted people in the U.S. now trumps the contingent still yelling on Twitter, which is why a story about 10 players on the Kansas City Royals being prohibited from traveling with the team for a series in Toronto can make the rounds and no one looks up from their phones.
The Royals are in last place in the AL Central and are in no way showing signs of righting the shit show. (Why would they?) Left fielder Andrew Benintendi was among the unvaccinated players who didn’t travel, but there are rumors he’s soon to be among new teammates. And that’s sadly the biggest story in all this. It’s not so much that the Royals’ All-Star representative is hiding behind personal choice, it’s how much that personal choice will affect whichever squad trades for him.
When asked about the situation, Benintendi said, “It was a personal decision, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
After a recent game, Kansas City manager Mike Matheny lauded the organization’s efforts to educate its players on the vaccine and answer any of their questions that haven’t already been addressed incorrectly on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take.
Here’s what first baseman Hunter Dozier said about his decision to continue to risk lives and be an incubator for deadlier variants.
“I’m not against vaccines, so it’s just a personal preference. I’m not judging anyone who wanted to get it or who didn’t want to get it.”
Second baseman Whit Merrifield also cited “personal choice” as his reason for not being vaccinated, according to Anne Rogers.
Merrifield’s remarks didn’t sit well with Royals GM Dayton Moore.
“When I first heard that, I was very disappointed,” Moore said on “The Program” with Soren Petro. “Pretty disgusted, truthfully.”
It’d be nice if we could afford other segments of the population the same respect and privacy that we do anti-vaxxers. There are a lot of personal preferences that shouldn’t be judged — refusing to get an FDA-approved vaccine that will help end a nightmarishly long pandemic isn’t one of them. If I wasn’t already tired of writing this article, I’d insert a COVID/Game of Thrones “Long night” parallel here. And if I’m past the point of analogizing, you know the topic is beyond draining.
The Royals’ ten players are the most any MLB team has had to leave stateside during a visit to the Great White North, and it’d definitely be a larger story if it was New York (the Yankees are reportedly all vaccinated) or Boston (some Red Sox remain jab-free) traveling to Toronto without a sizable chunk of its roster. That said, even if it was a situation like Matisse Thybulle missing playoff games in the Philly-Toronto playoff series, fans only care if it alters the outcome of the games — which didn’t happen for the 76ers.
Apparently, that possibility was enough for the Yankees to move off of their pursuit of Benintendi. Yet it’s clearly not enough for Benintendi to waver from his quest for stupidity.
Dayton Moore, the Royals’ president of baseball operations, said he was “disappointed” in how this will affect the team, and then acknowledged the organization’s hands are tied.
“At the end of the day, it’s their choice. It’s what they decide to do. And we’ve always been an organization that kind of promotes and encourages their individual choices. Unfortunately, some of this affects the team. We’re disappointed in some of that, but we realize it’s part of the game. It’s part of the world we live in.”
And I guess that’s the takeaway from this. Like that recent positive COVID test, or BA.5 variant story, or ruined vacation, or deceased relative, the Royals are a reminder that we’ve normalized disagreeing with science, and that this virus is going to linger like the worst house guest.
Coronavirus is the Jason Voorhees of pandemics. Never assume it’s dead. There’s a better chance of the Halloween franchise dying before COVID does.