Some fans wary of return to live baseball, Povich poll finds

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George Hudnet is an Orioles fan but with the team’s home opener April 8 he hasn’t made plans to see a game at Camden Yards.

The 79-year-old Bel Air, Maryland, resident probably won’t attend a game in person and instead will watch on TV.

“I don’t think I’d personally go until after the pandemic is over,” Hudnet told Capital News Service.

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at UMD and the Washington Post conducted a national poll of 1,500 U.S. adults.

The online poll from March 12-18 gauged fans’ attitudes toward returning to indoor and outdoor sports events. Sixty-six percent of poll respondents said they’d feel comfortable attending an outdoor sporting event like baseball, while only 32 percent felt comfortable attending an indoor sporting event like basketball.

“We are very understanding of those fans who are not quite ready to return, but for those fans that are, we’re creating the most safe environment possible,” Greg Bader, senior vice president of Administration and Experience for the Baltimore Orioles, told Capital News Service.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed felt comfortable returning to games with a mask mandate, while 56 percent felt comfortable going to games where attendees are screened for fevers and test negative for COVID-19.

Sixty-nine percent said they would be comfortable returning to games at 20 percent capacity. “The lower percentage of capacity made people more comfortable than at those venues that were trying for 50 percent or more (capacity) so those were definitely factors that we took into account,” Bader said of the poll.

Sixty-four percent of the poll would be comfortable returning if they received the COVID-19 vaccine and that number rose to 69 percent if all attendees received the vaccine.

“Because vaccinations are still not necessarily available to everyone who wants one, that factored into our decision not to require that,” Bader added.

Some fans like 59-year-old Michael Ruggieri of Glen Allen, Virginia, do feel comfortable returning to games.

Ruggieri is a Mets fan who typically attends one or two games each baseball season.

He explained that when he has received his second dose of the vaccine this week, he will be comfortable going to the ballpark.  

He also said that he’d prefer everyone attending games is vaccinated but recognizes that probably isn’t feasible with some people opting not to receive the vaccine.

“If they required everyone to wear a mask, I’d feel comfortable,” Ruggieri told Capital News Service.

“I would like it if there was some kind of reduction in crowds,” he added.

However, other fans, like 35-year-old Jan Glover of Hopewell, Virginia, would only attend games if the teams and stadiums strictly enforced masking and social distancing protocols. When Glover attends games it’s for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, as she’s several hours away from both Camden Yards and Nationals Park.

“It would depend how much they’re enforcing the masking and you have to have space between your party and other ticketed patrons,” Glover told Capital News Service.

At Camden Yards and Nationals Park fans and stadium staff will be required to wear a mask including when in their seats except when eating or drinking.

Gaiters, bandanas and masks with exhalation valves won’t be allowed.

At Camden Yards, signs and other notifications will be posted reminding fans before and during games to wear their masks.

Fans who don’t comply with the mask mandate will receive two verbal reminders of the policy from ushers and will be ejected from the stadium after a third violation.

“If it does look there’s an intentional attempt to not wear a mask, we will bring in security and have the individual ejected,” Bader said.

“We are taking this policy very seriously, if we feel that people are intentionally trying to skirt  this policy we will have them removed from the ballpark,” he added.

At sports venues in recent months, there have been isolated cases in which fans have refused to comply with mask mandates.

At a National Hockey League game in Pittsburgh last month, 17 fans were ejected for not wearing masks, according to KDKA CBS Pittsburgh.

Masking is one of numerous protocols that will be in effect on Opening Day for the Orioles.

The team is selling ticket packages in pods of two, four and six seats.

Each pod will be socially distanced with fans unable to join other groups.

The Nationals will be selling tickets in pods of 1-6 people also socially distanced and with fans unable to join other pods.

At Camden Yards fans who seat-hop and migrate to other seating areas will be reminded twice before being subject to ejection. In an effort to prevent fans from congregating outside of their assigned seating pods Camden Yards won’t open until an hour before first pitch.

Fans will not be permitted to enter until after batting practice.

The delayed opening is in effect “so that fans are not tempted to be running all over the seating bowl chasing home run balls and instead stick with their assigned pod area once they arrive at the ballpark,” Bader said.

Unlike last season, both stadiums will be cashless and will require digital ticketing where fans can access their tickets through the MLB Ballpark App.

Concession areas at Camden Yards will have more barriers set up than usual and will also have decals marked on the floor directing people where to stand.

Additionally, fans won’t be permitted to bring outside food and beverages into Camden Yards.

“We also have made a significant effort for both our planned members as well as the general public to try and educate them in advance about our policies to make sure that when they arrive at the ballpark, they know what they’re getting into,” Bader said.

Also, there will be clear plastic barriers between fans and concession workers, in an effort to diminish contact and create a touchless experience.

As an added safety measure, Camden Yards has 36 dual-sided hand washing stations around the stadium and over 175 hand sanitizing stations.

Despite all 30 teams allowing fans this season, each stadium has varying capacity limits dependent on the safety protocols of their local jurisdiction.

The Baltimore Orioles will have up to 25 percent capacity at Camden Yards, while the Washington Nationals will allow approximately 12 percent capacity at Nationals Park.

“We are hopeful based on what we saw in Florida (at spring training),” Bader said.

“We were very heartened by the fact that fans did adapt very quickly to this significant change of what coming to a ballpark was all about,” he added.

The Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington will be at full capacity this season, while the Boston Red Sox and Nationals have the lowest capacities respectively at 12 percent.

The Rangers home opener was a sell out with 38,828 fans in attendance as fans throughout the game gradually took off their masks.

These protocols will have been put to the test with the Nationals home opener on Tuesday and will continue with the Orioles home opener on Thursday.

“Stadium capacity is probably the biggest (safety) factor and if people wear their masks,” Glover said.