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Nationals' Juan Soto changed mind on vaccine and hopes to convince others. 'I was a little scared'

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CARLSBAD, Calif. — Washington Nationals All-Star outfielder Juan Soto, who tested positive for COVID-19 a year ago and resisted getting vaccinated, changed his mind after listening to medical experts, and said Tuesday that he is now fully vaccinated.

Soto, one of the three finalists for the NL MVP award, said he received the Pfizer vaccine several weeks ago. He hopes to increase awareness in his Dominican Republic community, along with his peers in Major League Baseball, that it’s perfectly safe to be vaccinated while also advocating flu shots.

“At the beginning, I won’t lie to you,’’ Soto told USA TODAY Sports, “(the vaccines) came out really quick and people were scared about it. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to trust our doctors. It’s crazy how good they are and how much they care about the community. We got to trust our lives with them.

“But at the beginning, yes, I was a little scared."

Soto played the entire 2021 season without being vaccinated. He said he was concerned about potential fertility issues but was put at ease when talking with doctors who explained there has been no evidence to support such issues.

“I was always thinking about (starting) a family, but they told me how this will protect me and my family and everything,’’ Soto said. “I’m a guy that is always flying in and out of different countries, so I wanted to protect my community."

Juan Soto led the NL with a .465 on-base percentage.
Juan Soto led the NL with a .465 on-base percentage.

Soto says he hopes to help convince his teammates and peers that the vaccines are safe. There were 12 members from his team that tested positive for COVID-19 in July, including four players, which forced the postponement of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Definitely, I will talk to them and try to explain to them how important it is," Soto said. "But at the end of the day, they are grown-up men and people. I want everyone protected.

“I still wear my mask everywhere I go, but I feel more comfortable going to places, and I don’t care if somebody is coughing next to me."

Soto, while hoping to be a role model off the field, has certainly provided plenty of evidence of his impact on the field.

He hit .313 with 29 homers, 95 RBI and a .999 OPS this past season, and led the league with a .465 on-base percentage. He has a career slash line of .301/.432/.550. His numbers dwarf Fernando Tatis of the San Diego Padres, who received a 14-year, $440 million contract this spring.

The Nationals have declared they want Soto to be the face of the organization and hope he spends the rest of his career with them. Still, it’s a business. And Soto says he has yet to be presented a deal to persuade him to sign on for a decade or more without testing the free agent market.

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Soto, who has finished among the top 10 in the MVP race in each of the past three seasons, earned $8.5 million last year. He is under the Nationals’ control for the next three seasons and eligible for free agency after the 2024 season.

"I’ve been talking about it with my agent (Scott Boras). I’ve gotten to know the economy of the game. They can talk about that business with my agent. I’m going to keep playing baseball, and play it hard every day.

“I’m a really patient person."

Said Boras: “Juan wants to play for a winning team and is waiting to see how that develops with the Nats.

Soto, who along with former Nats hitting coach Kevin Long traveled to Dodger Stadium during the NL Division Series to watch his former teammates, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, is hoping to be the centerpiece of a team that returns to the postseason.

The experience, he said, whet his appetite for another postseason run, just like in 2019 when the Nationals won the World Series.

“That was electric getting to see those guys again," Soto said. “Just to get a look at their faces, getting that feeling back, getting the feeling of the playoffs. That stadium was crazy. It felt great."

One day he hopes to experience that euphoria again, no matter what uniform he’s wearing.

“All of the players want to be known for something,’’ Soto said. “The first dream is to get to the big leagues. The second is to stay in the big leagues. The third is to be a Hall of Famer.

“That’s what I want."

In the meantime, he wants to be known as that All-Star outfielder who makes an impact in the Dominican Republic and throughout baseball.

He’s a vaccinated young athlete with a bright future and hoping to help save the lives of others.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nationals' Juan Soto changed mind on vaccine, hopes to convince others