Health and safety are even greater priorities for the Twins and Vikings this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Twins will open the 2020 regular season in Chicago against the White Sox on Friday and have their home opener at Target Field on Tuesday against the Cardinals. The Vikings will welcome rookies into minicamp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Thursday.
But if you want to know a big reason why those teams are in a great position to host pro sports and do it right during the coronavirus pandemic, look no further than their medical staffs.
Vikings lead trainer and Vice President Eric Sugarman has been with the club since 2006 and is as smart as anyone in pro sports when it comes to protecting players.
The Twins are using Chris Camp, their director of medical and high performance, and team physician Amy Beacom as their infection control prevention coordinators. Camp was hired in 2019 and works for the Mayo Clinic. Beacom has been with the club for a number of seasons and works with Summit Orthopedics. She has also served as the team physician for USA Swimming.
Sugarman and the Vikings staff won the NFL’s Athletic Training Staff of the Year in 2017. The group has long been seen as one of the best in the business at helping injured players get back on the field.
The Vikings’ protocols and safety measures are already being studied by people around the league. NBC Sports’ Peter King spent time with the club last week for a big profile on all the measures they’re taking to keep players and personnel safe.
Not just for players
Sugarman showed all the protective steps the club is taking in his news conference this week, and said the NFL and the NFL Players Association are on the same page moving forward.
“It’s about all of us,” Sugarman said. “We have to keep each other safe, and that is what these protocols were designed for. We plan to go above and beyond these protocols.”
Sugarman said that while some players and staff will likely test positive for the coronavirus, there’s no doubt the team will be ready to do all it can to keep them safe.
“I continue to say that one of the most critical things we can do is education,” he said. “I really feel like the education is going to be critical for our success and really for any team to have success is for education, and not just for the players, but for the coaches, for the staff, for the players’ families, for everyone we come in contact [with], to really have everyone understand how to remain safe.
“We know the first few weeks are going to be some of the toughest weeks we have because they’re going to be critical to establishing what’s going to be referred to as our ‘new normal,’ wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, having one-way hallways.
“We have a huge responsibility, again all of us — players, coaches, staff members, myself, leadership team — to make the right decisions to protect each other for this to be successful.”
Twins on the road
While the Vikings — who reached an agreement on a multiyear contract extension with coach Mike Zimmer on Wednesday — will be working with their players only in Minnesota, the Twins are going to be part of the first professional sports league in the country to play actual road games. The WNBA, NBA and MLS are all playing in “bubbles” in Florida, and the Wild will play its qualifying-round matchup vs. the Canucks in a bubble in Edmonton.
Going on the road will be a big challenge, and Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said the club is relying on Camp and Beacom to help players make smart decisions so that the team can try to complete the 60-game season without any further COVID-19 complications.
“We had two presentations the last few days,” Falvey said. “Dr. Chris Camp, who leads our medical crew and performance area, did the presentations that came from Major League Baseball on really all the specifics that go into COVID transmission, how you get it. An education, I guess you would say, for all our players: A chance to ask questions, a chance to talk about the protocols, but embedded in that was a lot of conversation about how you can protect yourself when you’re away from the ballpark, when you’re going through a season, when you’re on the road, all those things. So we’re trying to educate, first and foremost.”
One big plus for the Twins and Vikings is that they are getting expert advice from the MLB and NFL league offices in formulating a safety plan.
But when it comes to road games, the Twins had to come up with a clear message for their players.
“We know what the protocols are,” Falvey said. “That’s the document that exists, we’re not coming up as a team with a set of rules that then need to be approved by the players association, come back to the team, all those things would be in play. We’re trying to create guidelines that we think are valuable for all of our players to follow, and that’s within the confines of the protocols at present. As you know, there is no specific outline of what a person can do on the road. So we’re just trying to educate on the front end.
“Then in addition to that, we’re trying to create ways to keep players from having to maybe traverse out of the hotel for different types of meals, and make sure there’s a lot of delivery of those types of items, well prepared before we go into a new city. So we’re doing everything we can to limit the exposure that guys would have.
“But the education part, about being in bars, about being in enclosed spaces, about all that, we’re doing that on a daily basis to try and get people to understand … [it’s] just something we can’t do. If we do that, we expose our environment, and we potentially put our season and our team at risk.”
• Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was voted on to the executive committee of the United States Hockey League for the first time earlier this month. Suter is the owner of the Madison Capitols, bringing the team into the nation’s top junior league in 2014. Brian Schoenborn, a St. Cloud attorney and the owner of the Sioux Falls Stampede, was reelected to the executive committee as well.
• Former Gophers men’s basketball point guard Andre Hollins officially announced his retirement from professional basketball on social media. The 27-year-old, who became the first Gophers player to reach 1,500 points and 300 assists in his college career, had played for teams in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Sweden and Finland.