PHOENIX – On the same day the Texas Rangers announced they would allow 100% capacity for their home opener, the Arizona Diamondbacks reaffirmed their plans to host fans at a limited capacity at Chase Field to start the season.
The team will allow fans at 25% capacity which means roughly 12,000 will be allowed. Chase Field at full capacity holds just over 48,000 fans.
Although it may not be full capacity just yet, it is a positive sign for fans after none were allowed in last year’s 60-game abbreviated season.
“It makes a big difference to have fans in the stands and I think we’ve already seen that in spring training,” said Derrick Hall, Diamondbacks president and CEO. “(There is a) different feel in that ballpark. We’re used to having 14,000 and 15,000 fans at Salt River Fields and even having 2,200 or more certainly helps.”
With more people getting vaccinated and a better understanding of COVID-19, many teams across Major League Baseball are beginning to roll out plans for limited fan attendance, including the Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers.
The decision by the Rangers, meanwhile, prompted a variety of reactions and left some with questions. Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer told reporters that he would “really like to defer to the experts on this and listen to what Dr. Fauci has to say. As much as I think I know stuff, I think he knows a little bit more.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state mask mandate on March 2 but the Rangers are requiring fans to wear masks in Globe Life Field.
Hall said the organization is not ready to move that quickly beyond 25% capacity and will monitor the on-going COVID situation carefully.
“We at this point have been told we can have appropriate distancing which comes out to about 25% for us,” Hall said. “We will watch some of these other venues, some of these other stadiums and see what their jurisdictions are allowing. … I think it’s more important to take the smaller step at first and watch and do it in a very responsible way and hope to see these numbers dwindle in our market and state.”
Hall also said while 25% is the number for now, it will be a wait and see approach for potentially increasing that number.
“We are getting so close to Opening Day and we really have to plan,” Hall said. “We’re also actively looking at moving right now seating and moving some of our season ticket holders around so we do have that spacing. We’re comfortable with our plan right now and let’s look at the second month as we get into May or June. If things are continuing to improve and we don’t see any sort of outbreak anywhere else, that should help.”
Diamondbacks starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner said he would feel comfortable playing in front of a full stadium right now.
“It’s a major difference, especially for a lot of the players that have seen it that way for a long time,” Bumgarner said. “When you go back and there’s nothing there, it’s quite different. It’s definitely a different animal. It was tough to try to keep everything the same.”
The Diamondbacks plan to have the roof open as much as they can and the upper bowl of seating open as much as possible, Hall said.
On Wednesday, March 10, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 830 new cases of COVID-19, including 594 new cases in Maricopa County.
According to CovidActNow.org, the infection rate in Maricopa County is 0.90.
“We would all love to be at 100%, obviously. We would all like to push the envelope,” Hall said. “Yet, we need to balance that and we need to be very safe and be slow and smart about this. It’s not as if every fan is just willing to jump right back into the seats. We need to make sure that every fan when he or she enters that gate and they leave, they feel just as comfortable and confident as they did before this pandemic.”
The Diamondbacks’ home opener is April 9 against the Cincinnati Reds.