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MiLB teams navigate Opening Day waters

Minor League Baseball logoWith the Triple-A MiLB season set to open April 6, teams are prepping COVID-19 mitigation plans and working with local health officials on strategies to allow a limited number of fans in the ballpark.

Though there are MLB recommendations for ballpark safety, at the end of the day a decision whether to open a ballpark and at what capacity is the realm of local health authorities. In general, these broad decisions are made at the state level and then implemented by local officials. But county and city officials may decide to impost stricter measures than the state guidelines: in spring training, for instance, Scottsdale has restricted capacity far lower than other municipalities in the Valley. Generally speaking, we’re seeing capacities between 20 and 25 percent being allowed for outdoor venues like those in MiLB.

Some states are quite liberal when it comes to the beginning of the 2021 MiLB season; the Round Rock Express (Triple-A West), for instance, are operating at reduced capacity for 2021.

“We are thrilled to open the gates of Dell Diamond for Express baseball once again,” Express General Manager Tim Jackson said via press release. “Our team has been working closely with the City of Round Rock and Williamson County to develop a safe re-opening procedure since the pandemic began. This plan has been executed several times over the last 11 months at various events at the ballpark. The health and safety of guests, players and staff remains our top priority and we are confident that our plan allows for a limited number of fans to re-enter Dell Diamond in a safe, appropriate and responsible manner.”

Those restrictions include socially distanced pod seating, mandatory mask usage, a closure of the front rows of several sections closest to the playing surface and dugouts, as well as the berm area around the bullpens. The Dell Diamond is also emphasizing digital tickets and parking passes.

Like many in baseball, the Express is expecting capacities to open up as the season progresses, as vaccination rates increased and positivity rates/case numbers decline.

“We are optimistic that these procedures set for Opening Day will be eased as the summer continues and more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Express President Chris Almendarez said via press release. “I ask all fans visiting Dell Diamond to be flexible as we navigate these changes to our normal routines. We strive to emerge from this as a stronger and safer team, and can’t wait to welcome each of you back to the ballpark.”

The Express isn’t the only Triple-A team planning for fans in the stands: a decision by Gov. Roy Cooper yesterday to increase ballpark capacity limits to 25 percent helps the Durham Bulls (Triple-A East) plan for 2,500-3,000 fans per game. That number may even be higher in April and as the season progresses.

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