Milwaukee Brewers Set To Welcome Back Fans — 11,000 Of Them, Anyway
Updated 3:24 p.m. CDT
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, thousands of fans will gather at Milwaukee's big-league baseball stadium Thursday. It's the Brewers' 2021 season opener versus the Minnesota Twins. But unlike other opening days, it won't be a full ballpark. Health restrictions are limiting attendance.
The name Miller Park is gone, due to a change in corporate sponsorship. The stadium is now called American Family Field with backing from Madison-based insurance company American Family.
Crews spent days over the winter changing all the signs. Other workers have been doing things here and there to maintain the 20 year-old facility, which did not allow fans during last year's shortened baseball season due to COVID-19.
Fans are buying tickets at the ballpark's ticket booth. Seemingly, not as many fans as other years because people are being strongly encouraged to buy tickets online, and for now, attendance at American Family Field and most other major league ballparks is limited to allow for more physical distancing. Milwaukee's limit is 25% capacity, or about 11,000 fans.
Still, David Fox said he looks forward to going to a game with his grandson in a few weeks despite the ongoing pandemic.
"It's a concern. But I've had my vaccinations, I'm full vaccinated. I know we won't be sitting on top of anybody. We're going to be as careful as we can be. But we, last year, missed terribly coming to a ball game, so we're going to do it!," said Fox.
Besides more space between people, the Brewers are also requiring fans to wear masks except when eating or drinking in their seating area. Carry-in of food or snacks is prohibited, except for one soda, water or juice per-person if it's in a factory-sealed plastic bottle. Most bags are banned.
Two other fans were waiting for their chance to get back to watching in-person baseball, even with the new restrictions.
"We're sisters!," said Jane Huyser and Ann Swan in unison.
They said they feel good about the health precautions, although wearing a mask for a two or three hour game may take some getting used to. But the women said going to baseball game will be worth it.
To try to safely serve such devoted fans, the Brewers have also been making changes inside the stadium.
There won't be vendors going up and down the aisles. But the team is strongly urging fans to use the major league baseball Ballpark app on their smartphone to place a concession order. The Brewers also want all payments to be cashless and have installed a few kiosks where fans can exchange money for a prepaid card.
The team says the goal is to limit contact between fans and stadium employees. There will also be more disinfecting of high-touch surfaces during the game.
The club is not requiring fans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the ballpark or setting up designated seating areas for those who have been immunized. But Brewers Vice President Steve Eithier does encourage people to get a shot.
"Take those opportunities, I mean, that is a big part of what's going to get us over the hump," said Ethier.
The Milwaukee Health Department approved the Brewers' COVID-19 safety plan several weeks ago, when COVID-19 cases were going down. Numbers have started to rise recently with the state of Wisconsin reporting 523 new confirmed cases on Wednesday.
When Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson was asked this week if she has any second thoughts about 11,000 people being at American Family Field for games, she replied: "The size of the gathering does give me pause, but I am confident with the Brewers safety plan in place that they have done an exceptional job of assuring that groups will be physically distanced. There will not be interactions between groups, and there's plenty of space for everyone who will be in attendance."
The city can't say the same thing for stadium parking lots. There's a ban on tailgating and the lots won't open until two hours before the first pitch.
Thursday afternoon's game against Minnesota is a sellout, and the stadium roof will be closed. The Brewers report some tickets are available for games Saturday evening and Sunday, also against the Twins.