Limited Tailgating Allowed, Mask Requirement Remains As Milwaukee Brewers Begin Second Homestand
Despite an uptick in COVID-19 cases, more socially-distanced gatherings of thousands of people are expected at Milwaukee's baseball stadium this week. The Brewers play a six-game homestand, beginning Monday night.
Some changes are in store since the team's first series of the season, including a limited return of tailgating in the parking lots at American Family Field.
Attendance at the ballpark is still limited to 25% capacity or about 11,000 people, as Milwaukee health officials keep trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Fans must wear face masks inside the stadium, except when eating or drinking. A few fans can sit together in so-called pods.
During the Brewers opening series against the Minnesota Twins, there were times when you could easily tell that the gang wasn't all there — like at the end of the 7th inning stretch when the organist played the Beer Barrel Polka. Modest applause and cheering, replaced the usual extended yelling.
Other times, such as when a Brewer hit the ball solidly, the crowd sounded huge.
Brewers fan LeeAnn Pierce said it's plain exciting to be able to cheer baseball in person, after COVID-19 related restrictions kept rooters out of the ballpark during the shortened 2020 season.
"Well, we're season ticket holders and we haven't been able to go to games, obviously, for about a year. So, we love the Brewers and we love to support them," said Pierce, after a game on April 3.
But for other fans, including a woman who gave her name as Crystal, having to wear a mask for hours takes some of the joy out of going to American Family Field.
"The cheering doesn't feel the same ... you have to yell so much louder," she said.
Crystal's friend, Rob, complained that someone trying to enforce the mask requirement scolded him. "He told me, 'Sir, sir, put your mask back on.' Or something like that. I was having a beer in my hand. He told me to put my mask on. That's not necessary!" he said.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she went to one of the opening games and reported that COVID-19 protocols were being followed. She said the Brewers have agreed to "a couple tweaks here and there."
Also new at American Family Field this week is a return to the long tradition of tailgating in the stadium parking lot.
In October 2018, prior to a game at the Milwaukee stadium, about a dozen fans from Antigo gathered for their tailgate party prior to a Brewers playoff game. Tom Heinzen said the weather didn't matter. "It's cold out. I'm freezing, and I'm drinking cold beer right now," he said.
But for the opening baseball series this year, COVID-restrictions prohibited tailgating in the stadium lots.
So, more fans than usual seemed to head to nearby taverns before games.
At the bar Kelly's Bleachers at least, some people seemed to ignore a mask sign and partied in a rear parking area.
Out on the sidewalk, Chris Hill did wear a mask and emphatically called for the return of tailgating. "Absolutely. We're outside. It's just like being at home barbecuing. You should definitely let people tailgate!" Hill said.
Last Thursday afternoon, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett explained that even though COVID-19 cases are increasing in the region, the city health department had agreed to very limited stadium tailgating. Barrett said it's safer than people packing together at taverns.
"What we were hearing reports of is, bars being overcrowded and people going into bars, where they'd have more exposure to more individuals, and then come to the ballpark," he said.
Barrett emphasized that under the new rules for the American Family Field lot, fans have to stay near their vehicle and can only tailgate with the people they're later sitting with inside the stadium.
He said he's not worried that starting tonight, thousands of Chicago Cubs fans may come north for the first three games of the Brewers homestand to watch their team play against Milwaukee.
"As long as the Brewers [fans], who have been very, very good at this, continue to exercise the safety protocols, I think we're going to be fine," said Barrett.