At some point after we get the COVID quarantine figured out, Nationals Park will open its gates to fans for the first time in over a year. While just 5,000 fans will be admitted for the Opening Day game between the Good Guys and the New York Mets, this is a huge step in the right direction towards eventually getting the stadium back to 100% capacity.
Recently, I was reading about the poll put out by the Washington Post-University of Maryland about how Americans feel about attending sporting events in person amidst the pandemic.
Safety protocols will be evident as Nationals Park opens up to the public. This doesn’t mean the fan experience will change.
Safety is the number one priority, though I do not think health has to be compromised when allowing spectators into baseball game and having them enjoy the experience. I think about how the ballpark will be different with a limited number of patrons in the seats. The smells will be there, just maybe not as abundant. The sounds will be there, only amplified. The feelings of watching baseball live may be more overwhelming than in the past.
Earlier in the day I was looking at some Jayson Werth statistics. I was immediately taken back to the time I was in the first row to the left of the visitors’ dugout at Minute Maid Stadium. I was wearing a red Nationals shirt, standing, and clapping my hands as Werth trotted in from the outfield. As Werth approached the dugout we made eye contact and in the expressionless look he did so well, he nodded at me, as to say “what’s up man”. That’s how I read it anyway.
After reading the Washington Post article, which said 66% of people polled would feel comfortable at an outdoor sporting event, I remembered a minor league game I took my four-year-old daughter to. As we sat behind the dugout, the game failed to keep her attention. The baseball player popping up over the top of the dugout did not. In between innings he would play peek-a-boo with her, make funny faces, or do other comedic overtures. He kept this up for three innings, at which point he threw some bubble gum over the dugout to her. To this day she still says, “Remember the guy who played hide and seek with me at the baseball game.”
As fans parade into stadiums around the league, the atmosphere may seem different. The emotions fans will experience will be the same. Masks and hand sanitizer will be high priority. Physical distancing and elbow bumps will replace high fives and handshakes. The memories fans make will last a lifetime nonetheless.