A limited number of socially distanced fans watch a spring training game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Tigers on Sunday in Clearwater, Fla. Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Card games, car pools and eating at restaurants may be back in the major leagues later this season. Trips to church and sponsor events may return, too.

Mask use would be dropped from dugouts and bullpens, and electronic tracing devices would be eliminated when 85% of major league players and primary field staff are vaccinated. Communal clubhouse video would return before and after games. Pool tables would be restored, along with team saunas.

A three-page memorandum from Major League Baseball and the players’ association sent to players and staff on Monday and obtained by The Associated Press also stated “all players and staff are strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.”

“For purposes of this memo, individuals are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ two weeks after receiving their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after their first dose of a single dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson),” the memo stated.

Not many players have been vaccinated, according to MLB, but it expects the pace to increase after teams return to their home cities from spring training. Opening Day is Thursday.

MLB’s Tier 1 restrictions in place since last summer cover players, managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches.


While clubhouse video rules would loosen before and after games, in-game use will remain covered by rules restricting in-game use to MLB-issued iPads with catcher’s signals blocked, regulations put in place in response to the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.

Once the 85% threshold is reached, fully vaccinated players and staff would be able to eat and drink on flights. They would be able to gather in indoor spaces such as hotels without masks or social distancing as long as non-vaccinated people aren’t present, and they would be able to carpool or use Uber or Lyft. The relaxation would not apply to gatherings in group facilities at ballparks, such as clubhouses.

Fully vaccinated people who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 would not have to quarantine unless they exhibit systems.

Vaccinated players and staff would have the option to reduce PCR saliva testing to twice weekly, similar to Tier 2 staff, such as front office and clubhouse employees, owners and groundskeepers.

Family members who are fully vaccinated and minor children who are not vaccinated would be able to stay with players and staff in hotel rooms during road trips, though MLB and the union cautioned that the Centers for Disease Control advised not to use commercial travel and to stay home unless necessary. Families also would be able to sit anywhere in ballparks and not be restricted to pods, subject to local laws and policies.

Players and staff would be able to meet outdoors with anyone on road trips, eliminating the restriction limiting them to household and family.


They also would no longer be required to let club compliance officers know when they are leaving team hotels, and they would be allowed to stay at personal homes on road trips without a need for family quarantines or testing.

While attending religious services would be allowed, attending outdoor services would be encouraged.

CARDINALS: St. Louis plans to start the season Thursday in Cincinnati with pitchers Kwang Hyun Kim, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas on the injured list, along with outfielder Harrison Bader.

Hudson always planned to begin the season on the injured list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Kim is dealing with a back injury, Mikolas has a sore shoulder, and Bader has a strained right foreman that could keep him out for a month, the Cardinals said.

CUBS: Anthony Rizzo is cutting off talks about a new contract as free agency looms after the World Series.

The first baseman is finishing a nine-year contract this season and has a $16.5 million salary. He set a deadline of opening day for a new agreement.


TWINS: Minnesota signed right-hander Randy Dobnak to a $9.25 million, five-year contract that includes three club options to extend and increase the deal with the overachieving former ride-share driver.

The bespectacled, mustachioed 26-year-old became a cult hero after his major league debut in 2019, when he wound up starting a postseason game at Yankee Stadium. Dobnak went undrafted out of an NCAA Division II program, Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia, and was pitching in an obscure independent league in Michigan when the Twins discovered him. To make ends meet along his way up the ladder, Dobnak was an Uber driver during his spare time.

RANGERS: Rougned Odor, the Rangers’ starting second baseman the past seven seasons, has been told he won’t be on the Opening Day roster after switching to third base this spring.

The 27-year-old infielder has two more seasons and $24.6 million left on a six-year contract, plus a $3 million buyout for a $13.5 million team option in 2023.

BREWERS: Reliever Justin Topa has a flexor strain in his right elbow and will miss at least half the season, another setback for the right-hander who’s had two Tommy John reconstructive surgeries.

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