The 'COVID baseball' experience
Xs and Arrows
June 5, 2021
It was not necessarily a bucket list item but more of a matter of necessity when I decided to head out to my first live baseball game since the start of the pandemic over a year ago.
It had been nearly three years since I sat in the confines of a ballpark and enjoyed one of my favorite hobbies, watching live baseball. The year 2019 was simply busy with a young family and 2020 was, well, fan-less as the season was a mere 60 games and the stands filled with cardboard cutouts and phony crowd noise thanks to COVID-19.
Although the target date to reopen the California economy, and as a result, full capacity at sporting events is right around the corner on June 15, I had to take in at least one ballgame under the current "social distancing" regulations. Maybe one day it will be one of those "I was there moments." Considering I was at the very last game of the strike-shortened 1994 season when the Seattle Mariners defeated the Athletics in Oakland one late August evening and after that baseball went silent for nine months over a labor disagreement, and the fact that I also took in games during the steroid-generated homerun race of 1998 watching Sammy Sosa strike longballs in San Diego against the hometown Padres; I've been privy to a little baseball history, this seemed like another feather in the ol' ballcap.
We went to Angels Stadium in Anaheim this spring evening, one of my favorite ballparks, not because I love the Angels, quite the opposite, I am an Oakland Athletics fan, and my first-place team was in town. I do enjoy Anaheim because although I root for the As, I never have any drama. Fans keep to themselves; they don't harass others; the ushers are nice no matter the jersey or cap you are wearing. I cheer for my team, they cheer for theirs, like any baseball fan should be allowed to in a free America. Anaheim always makes me feel welcome despite my admiration for their division rival.
Back to the ballgame itself, I'll be honest, certain restrictions were actually welcome and could potentially become the norm at ballparks. For example, there was no printing of physical tickets, my online purchase, including parking, was sent directly to my MLB Ballpark App on my phone and that was scanned for admission, which meant one less thing to forget. They only allowed clear bags in the stadium which cut down on the invasive and time-consuming necessity of security rifling through purses and backpacks upon entry.
The tickets were sold in groups of four or two, with the seats around those tickets zip-tied shut and inoperable for the game. So, nobody in front, behind or beside our group of four, which included my oldest son who is right about that age of remembering experiences like this. Honestly, that was my favorite part. I find it convenient when I go to a game and there isn't a fan around me, less getting up for concessions and restrooms, less feeling cramped and more room to spread out. That is not realistic to remain, but it was fun while it lasted.
Concession stands did not deal in cash, which again was convenient and quicker, although due to capacity limitations half of the normal vibrant concessions were closed, limiting options and purchase power. However, that evening I was only interested in one meal, the good old fashioned ballpark hot dog. It is nothing fancy, but I swear after nearly three years out of the stands, nothing tasted better than those dogs in an open-air stadium with simple mustard and relish garnish, it was worth the trip. The little guy kept talking about popcorn the entire drive, so we obliged him with a giant bucket, the only size they had available, and credit to his 4-year old frame, he ate the entire thing over the course of five innings. You can also add in his ice cream and cotton candy to the tab, the kid made the most of the moment and his dad's affinity for the national pastime.
Of course, being 4, he was interested in the Angels' famed Rally Monkey, so he got one of those despite his Athletics cap. If the kid grows up to love baseball and the life lessons the game supplies, I hope his room is full of souvenirs and keepsakes from random teams, as long as he knows who to root for when the chips are down, we'll be alright.
The game worked out in the favor of my rooting interest and we set out for home a few innings early. As much as I love to see the end of games the reality is I have zero interest in postgame traffic and had a long drive back to Tehachapi in front of me.
It was nice to be back, nice to experience the sights and the sounds, although certain sounds like vendors hawking their flavors and wares were not a part of that. I sure hope they get to return when we open this world in a few weeks. It isn't baseball without the "peanuts, popcorn," and "get your hot dogs here" shouts from each section, it is just part of the romance of the whole thing.
I hope normal returns with full capacity in a few weeks, although some restrictions will remain because it was probably more of an evolution of the fan experience and better business in the long run. I can say "I was there" when they talk about this crazy time 20 years from now and I can talk about the one game I witnessed back during that pesky coronavirus and how grateful I felt to return to a ballpark and do baseball things with other people. Whether we shared the same affinity for our teams or not, the important part is we were together and that I missed the most.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more content at http://www.CostelloeMedia.com.