The return of fans to Major League ballparks this year will allow Dusty Baker to have some friends and family members in the stands for the first time as manager of the Astros for Sunday’s game against the A’s in Oakland. The stands were empty for Baker’s first year with Houston during last year’s 60-game regular season.
Baker said Thursday that his daughter, Natosha, along with her 15-month-old son, and his son, Darren, who plays college baseball for Cal, will be in the Coliseum stands on Sunday, along with some of his friends from Sacramento, where he lives. Darren Baker is a senior at Cal, which plays games Thursday through Saturday and has Sunday off for Easter.
“I got some homeboys coming over to watch us from Sac, and it’s really pretty cool,” Baker said. “It’s fun to always come back here. A lot of memories here. I ended my career here with the A’s. … It’s kind of like old home week.”
Thursday marked the 24th Opening Day for the 71-year-old Baker as a manager, and he admitted he had some nervous energy in the team hotel in San Francisco during the day on Thursday.
“All I know is time’s gone quickly,” Baker said. “I remember my first one here in San Francisco, 1993. Seems like it was just yesterday. My son asks me all the time, like a running joke, he’ll say, ‘Dad, are you excited yet?’ And I’ll say, ‘Not yet; I’m getting there.’”
Click hopeful to hit 85 percent threshold
Astros general manager James Click rolled up his sleeve and received his COVID-19 vaccination on Monday night at Minute Maid Park, as did dozens of players, coaches and members of the training staff and the front office.
Upon arrival from Spring Training, the Astros, in conjunction with Methodist Hospital, were able to get the vaccine. Because of privacy laws, it’s unknown how many elected to get the vaccine, or what type of vaccine they received, but Click believes the Astros can hit the 85 percent threshold required to relax MLB's health and safety protocols.
“Obviously, vaccinations are not mandatory, but the constant theme I’ve gotten from players and staff is they just want to be educated about it and they just want to understand what the pros and cons are of the vaccines,” Click said. “The more we talked to the guys and the more they have conversations with our doctors and trainers, the more questions they’ve had. We’re optimistic that we’ll get there, but it’s a situation where we’re finding it’s a priority to educate everybody and go from there.”
Clubs were informed Monday that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
Increased workload for position players, too
Much has been written this spring about the increased workload of pitching staffs, where going from a 60-game season to a 162-game slate could test a team’s depth. Likewise, position players will be dealing with a drastic increase in playing time as well, and Click said it’s something the team’s sports medicine and performance group will monitor.
“We’re making sure we constantly evaluate how their bodies are responding and how they’re coming back from stretches in the baseball season when you get 10, 15, 20 games in a row,” Click said. “We’re lucky to have a lot of off-days built into the early part of the schedule, which should give our guys a soft landing as they get into the grind of the season.”
Many of the position players prefer to play every day, but that’s not realistic. There’s plenty of information available to the players in terms of how much rest they need and when they need it, but it will be up to the training staff to tell them when it makes sense to take some time off.
“We’ll find creative ways to manage the workload for not only the pitchers, but the position players,” Click said.