When the Arizona Diamondbacks play their home opener against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, April 9, it will have been 558 days since D-backs fans got to see their team at Chase Field.
After 2020, which saw a shortened season and no attendees at games, "to get to Opening Day is a major achievement," says Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. "By being able to open up our gates to fans, we know we’re getting back to where we were before."
But in the post-pandemic world, a day at the ballpark will be quite different than it was in 2019.
For starters, say goodbye to paper tickets — it's all digital this season, either through text messaging, email, or the MLB Ballpark app. (Also contactless this year: paying for parking.)
The stadium gates will open 30 minutes later than in past seasons to discourage people hanging around outside. To reduce contact at security checkpoints, only clear bags will be allowed.
And despite the fact that Governor Doug Ducey abandoned mandates yesterday, you have to wear a mask. Not a face shield, not a bandanna — a mask.
"We will have our staff walking around with gentle reminders for people to pull up their masks," Hall says.
When you get inside, Chase Field will seem pretty empty: The stadium will be operating at 25 percent capacity, or just under 12,000 fans per game. To help maintain social distancing, Diamondbacks staff zip-tied a good chunk of the seats.
You may have enjoyed trying to get autographs during batting practice, but we regret to say that there will be no player-fan interaction, at least at the start of the season.
Food is one of the best parts of the ballpark experience, and whether you want to try one of the new menu items, or just grab a dog and a beer, don't forget your debit or credit card: Chase Field is going totally cashless.
"The purpose of our new approach here is to make sure people feel as clean and contactless as possible," Hall says.
To that end, one of this season's new amenities is a Fry's Food Stores Grab N' Go kiosk, where attendees can take nonalcoholic beverages out of fridge cases, pay, and leave, all without encountering an employee. (You can take your mask off at your seat to eat and drink, but you'll have to put it back on afterward.)
Hall revealed the new safety protocols in a media event on March 25 that began just two hours after Ducey announced the end of COVID-19 restrictions, so he acknowledged that the team and the stadium would have to have further discussions about what the governor's decision would mean for Diamondbacks baseball.
"We’re still analyzing to see how that may change things," he says. "We would like the ability to have more fans in here, but we want our fans to feel very comfortable, very confident, especially on their first visit."
Hall hinted that Ducey's announcement would accelerate the timeline of letting more people into Chase Field for each game, but "I can’t see us at this point wanting to go zero to 100 so fast. It doesn’t make sense to go without restriction at this point. Eventually, we would love to get there, but it’s got to be the right time."
But even with the reduced capacity, even with the masks, the team is anxious to get back to playing in a stadium (sort of) full of people, says Luis Gonzalez, senior advisor to the president and CEO (and beloved former D-back).
"Fans are part of the game, and to have them in the ballpark, it really energizes [the players] and gets them going in the right direction," Gonzalez says.
Hall points to baseball as a touchpoint of national healing.
"Baseball, historically, has played a big part of us getting back to normal: After the World Wars, and after 9/11, and now hopefully after this pandemic, it’s an important piece. It’s the family sport — being able to sit in the seats and have conversations and pass this sport down from generation to generation."
On Opening Day, "I'm going to have chills that night and probably a few tears myself," he says.