Cherry blossoms. Sunlight into the (early) evening hours. And baseball with fans in the stands. Rites of passage for spring.
Last year, Major League Baseball played a season shortened by the pandemic and void of fans not made of cardboard.
But this year will feel much more like a normal year. For starters, the season will be its regular length of 162 games. Yes, there are fans in stands, though that depends on which state you are in. In Seattle, the Mariners allow up to 9,000 fans in seats for the first several games of the season. That number may change as more people are vaccinated and as case numbers go down.
There are numerous other new regulations in place, such as social distancing and limits on what you can bring into T-Mobile Park. Because the lines to get into the stadium will be longer and slower-moving, there are no bags allowed to speed up the entry process.
Everyone over two years old will be required to wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking, which is only allowed in seats.
Even the seating arrangements will be special. Since only approximately 20% of the seats will be filled, expect there to be plenty of empty seats between your group and others. Tickets are being sold in groups of up to six, with the expectation that everyone in your party will be from the same household.
Despite these restrictions, most diehard baseball fans will likely be able to forget about the pandemic for a bit once they get settled into seats. The atmosphere of the game and the experience will take over. There will still be beer, hot dogs, peanuts, and a game being played on the field, after all. And that’s to say nothing of enjoying some quality time with family or friends. In public. We could all likely use more of that.
As for the Mariners themselves, that’s where things are going to feel just like old times, and not in a good way.
The big picture is that aside from several good seasons from 1995-2001, the Mariners have not been a successful baseball team. In fact, they own the ignominious distinction of having the longest playoff drought of any professional sports team (counting NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA).
Before the pandemic, the story was that the Mariners were entering a rebuilding phase. Trading away their stars (or losing them to retirement) and signing lots of new, younger talent. That talent was supposed to get developed during the 2020 season. We all know how that went. It leaves fans in the current position to wait and hope for future results rather than expecting them right away as young players get real game experience.
Thus far, the Mariners are at about .500, with a tough series underway against the Minnesota Twins, a good team expected to compete and make the playoffs. The Mariners had had a couple of interesting games so far, pushing things into extra innings and winning when most people had already gone to bed and written off the outing as a loss.
It’s, of course, far too early to start making predictions when we are only six games into a 162-game season, but nonetheless. To actually make the playoffs would be one of the most exciting things to happen in sports around here in quite some time.
In a perfect world, Seattle will exceed expectations. And the virus numbers will go down, and T-Mobile’s seating capacity will go up. The weather will get better, and life will return to normal.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes all you have is hope. But at least now we have baseball to go along with it.