While major league baseball managed a 60-game season in front of no fans, the pandemic shut down the minor leagues altogether in 2020. But just days ago, those players, and their socially-distant fans returned to the ballpark.
After opening their season on the road, the Salem Red Sox will host their first game in more than 600 days Tuesday night.
General Manager Allen Lawrence admits separating fans by six feet isn’t easy.
"When you do that, you have to burn a lot of seats, and for us, that’s – we have to burn about 4,000 seats that we just can’t use," he said. "All those are zip tied right now, and we’re hoping to be able to remove them. I can’t wait for the day that we can take those zip ties off. I’m confident from the feeling I’m getting from our fans that the 2,000 fans that we have in here are going to sound like 10,000 fans, just they’re just as excited to be here as we are.”
Comparing the limit on capacity to how many fans the team drew in 2019, Lawrence said the average attendence then was around 3,000 fans. In pre-pandemic times, the park capacity was about 6,300 fans. He said on a Friday or Saturday night during the summer, the team could lure as many as 5,000.
The stadium now also offers a cell phone app that lets fans order concessions from their seat and pick it up when it’s ready, avoiding long lines for food.
The pandemic has also forced Salem and other Carolina League teams to play fewer opponents this season, facing primarily 3 teams over the 120 game season. The Red Sox host the Lynchburg Hillcats Tuesday night.
Hillcats spokeswoman Maura Sheridan says both health and cost were contributing factors.
"Obviously, without having full capacity, it does mean that you’re losing some money, or maybe making not as much as you’re used to," she said. "It does kind of help to have maybe not as many travel expenses, and it just makes a lot of sense from bouncing around from place to place.”
Both teams are hopeful they can open to full capacity when Governor Ralph Northam expects to loosen health restrictions on June 15.