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HOUSTON, TEXAS - MAY 10: Manager Dusty Baker Jr. #12 of the Houston Astros walks back from a mound visit during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park on May 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Toothpicks, card games return as COVID-19 protocols are relaxed amid vaccinations

Teams are starting to relax some COVID-19 protocols as they reach 85 percent threshold for vaccinations

Carlos Correa is excited to go shopping again now that some COVID-19 protocols are lifted. Dusty Baker is eager to dig into his boxes of tea tree oil toothpicks and continue his habit of chewing on them during games. Giants pitcher Jarlin Castro expects to build a better vibe.

The Giants and the Astros became the latest big league teams to reach the 85 percent threshold of having their Tier 1 personnel vaccinated for the coronavirus. MLB teams are starting to relax  COVID-19 protocols that have been in place for more than a year. 

“They tell us that if we reach another threshold of 90 percent then they’ll lift some of the insisting protocols that are left,” Baker said. “We still have to wear a mask in the clubhouse. Still have to wear a mask in the training room. Still have to wear a mask in the weight room.

“Still have to wear to a mask on the bus and on the plane, but we don’t have to wear a mask on the field … and in bullpen.”

On April 30, the MLB Players Association and MLB announced that four teams had reached the 85 percent threshold of having their Tier 1 personnel fully vaccinated. The Cardinals, Yankees, Rockies and Tigers were the first four teams to reach the 85 percent threshold.

In that release they also announced that 81% of Tier 1 individuals in the majors were considered partially or fully vaccinated. More progress was revealed last Friday when they announced that five teams had reached the 85 percent threshold. In that same released, they announced that “As of today, more than 83 % of all Tier 1 individuals are considered partially or fully vaccinated.”

Card games return

Although the protocols still call for players to wear masks indoors around other people, they can now congregate in groups at communal tables in the clubhouse. They can return to their pregame card games.

They can drink a beer or two together on the road. 

“I see that as super positive because that way the team has a better vibe,” Giants pitcher Jarlin Castro said. “We will be able to communicate better. And we’ll be closer to interact and share ideas and get to know each other so we can help each other.”

More importantly, perhaps, players can now open up their homes to relatives and friends. 

“Guys can have friends and family come over, especially if they were already vaccinated,” Baker said. “Your family can come and stay with you now. 

“We’re allowed to go eat, allowed to go get coffee. Some of the things you used to take for granted before you really appreciate now.”

Correa is eager to explore outside his home and the ballpark again.

Carlos Correa ready to shop

“Go shopping, go out to eat a little more, live a normal life once again,” Correa said, “I’m really looking forward to that.”

Most ballplayers are creatures of habit with strict daily routines. They enjoy their pregame card games, pregame meals and strolls together on the road before and long after games. 

Players can return to some of those routines once their teams reach the 85 percent threshold of having their Tier 1 personnel vaccinated. Baker’s famous toothpicks are back too. He pulled out a whole case of toothpicks from his desk in the Astros’ manager’s office.

The case was full, he noted. 

“Now I can use them,” he said with a smile.

It’s more than just about playing cards. It’s about having a communal space to chat about everything and anything on a regular basis. Some days they’ll chat about game situations or what they may see in opponents or their teammates’ game. 

They can sit together and vent about things on the field or personal matters away from the field. 

“It’s just another way to build community and continue to strengthen the team bond that we already have going on,” the Astros’ Jason Castro said. “It’s just another step in the direction of what we’ve been accustomed to for our whole careers.”

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