Gabe Kapler has managed 85 games with the Giants so far, but he still hasn't had a chance to truly show his face to the fan base. That should change in a couple of weeks.
Kapler said the Giants had additional members of the traveling party get the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday and will reach the 85 percent threshold for Tier 1 personnel -- players, coaches and support staff -- in 13 days, when everyone who got vaccinated Thursday is two weeks past their second shot.
Reaching 85 percent (or comfortably over 85 percent, as the Giants will be) allows teams to significantly loosen the restrictions that have been in place during two seasons played in a pandemic.
"I'm proud of that," Kapler said. "Once we get there we still have a long way to go and protocols to follow, but just being able to loosen them up a little bit, I think that's something that everybody is looking forward to."
Teams that reach 85 percent vaccination do not have to wear masks in the dugout or bullpen, and Kapler said he intends to stop wearing his during games. There are plenty of other benefits that should give teams above the threshold a slight competitive advantage and simply make time at and away from the ballpark more comfortable.
Kapler noted that one of the most important changes in two weeks will be the ability for vaccinated coaches and players to gather in hotel rooms for meetings, something that hasn't been allowed. "It's a big deal," Kapler said. Other changes include the ability to carpool, eat at restaurants, meet family and friends while on the road and stay at personal residences while traveling. Once the Giants reach 85 percent, players don't have to notify a team employee when leaving the hotel and they can also choose to decrease the number of COVID-19 tests they take.
There is a long list of small changes at the ballpark that MLB put in front of teams to encourage vaccination, but Kapler said one of the biggest keys was simply seeing others get to 85 percent and some sense of normalcy. MLB announced Friday that four clubs had hit the mark, a number that includes the Rockies, who had more freedom when they visited Oracle Park this week. On Friday evening, the Tigers and Yankees became the first teams to face off after reaching the threshold.
"I think looking across the field at the Rockies dugout and seeing that group without masks on was a nice carrot," Kapler said. "It looks like a normal dugout when the masks aren't around the neck, so I think that's something that players are looking forward to. A few of them have mentioned that to me."
Per MLB, the Giants and four other clubs have reached a point where 85 percent of Tier 1 personnel have gotten a final vaccine shot and are just waiting an additional two weeks to be fully done with the process. That still, however, leaves the majority of MLB teams on the outside, and the Giants do have some holdouts. Kapler said it's "a really small number" that hasn't gotten a shot, crediting MLB for making getting vaccinated appealing.
The Giants will be able to change their protocols when they visit Pittsburgh in mid-May. Kapler is looking forward to it, and not just for baseball reasons.
"I think those of us who shave frequently are also looking forward to not having the discomfort that comes from having a tight mask around your neck after you've shaved," he said, smiling.