Minor league baseball teams often are regarded as having a special connection to their communities, and two Iowa clubs are excited that they have been able to take that a step further by offering COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Quad City River Bandits, the High-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, hosted a vaccination clinic Saturday at Modern Woodmen Park, put on by the Scott County Health Department, rewarding those who came to get vaccinated with a free River Bandits ticket for later in the season.
“That’s a big deal to me,” River Bandits owner Dave Heller said. “Making this ballpark an integral part of this community in every way is really important.”
Taylor Satterly, executive director of special events for the River Bandits, said 120 doses of the Johnson & Johnson shot were given out. Meanwhile, the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, partnered with supermarket chain Hy-Vee to offer a pop-up vaccination bus outside of Principal Park on game days for the first 12 home games of the season.
Five games into the season, Iowa Cubs Vice President and Assistant General Manager Randy Wehofer estimates that between 40 and 45 people have been vaccinated at the pop-up clinic, including an 86-year-old woman who showed up early and waited an hour and a half before the clinic opened to receive her vaccine.
“Our path to doing more business is more people getting vaccinated,” Wehofer said. “So it all perfectly aligns and is a good message.”
Wehofer said the idea to give out vaccinations came from a Hy-Vee storeowner, who asked him if the Cubs would be willing to help out with the vaccination effort. Not long after he told her “Absolutely,” the idea was on the news.
“She mentioned that to the governor’s office, and the governor leaked the fact that we were going to be doing some things before we even had our call,” Wehofer said with a laugh. “But that was fine. We were fully intentional on doing that.”
Heller is on the board of directors of Genesis Health System, which provided the nurses who administered vaccines at the clinic. Heller says the idea of the River Bandits pitching in with the vaccination effort was his: “I reached out to our Scott County supervisors and had them talk to the health department here and said, ‘I want to do it.’”
The River Bandits give back about $600,000 per year to the community in philanthropic efforts, Heller said. So giving back to the community in this timely and important manner? That means a lot to him.
“I want to do everything I can to make sure that everybody in our community can become and stay as healthy as they possibly can,” Heller said. “I can’t even begin to think of something that we could do that’s more important than helping people stay safe and healthy during this pandemic.”