D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has approved the Washington Nationals’ request to play the upcoming season in the city, but for at least the time being, Nationals Park will not have fans in attendance.
In a letter from Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, the director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, the city said it will revisit its COVID-19 restrictions later this month to see if it’s possible to invite crowds back to Nationals Park.
“We are assessing the prevalence and impact of new, more transmissible viral strains on the progress we are making through various public health measures, including our vaccination program, and expect to be able to get you some word on ticket sales for fans in the middle of the month,” Rodriguez said. “With you, we are looking forward to fans returning to Nats Park. Answers as to how many and when are still premature.”
MLB is allowing a limited number of fans at some spring training games in Florida and Arizona, and the league is allowing fans to return to home markets once the regular season begins in April. The exact percentage of fans hasn’t been worked out and depends on the local jurisdictions.
New York, for instance, is allowing 10% capacity and Yankees and Mets games — about 5,000 fans at each stadium. In Philadelphia, the Phillies will have about 8,000 fans at Citizens Bank Park. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he was “opening Texas 100%” next week. It remains to be seen if MLB will cap spectator numbers, though.
At Nationals Park, at least not under the current restrictions, there will be no crowd at all. The Nationals are scheduled to begin their season in four weeks, on April 1, with six home games in seven days,
Washington players have expressed support for the return of fans.
“The fans should be in the stands, 100%,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer said last month. “You can do it. We’re in outdoor stadiums. Fans need to be allowed to come into the ballpark. We can engineer a way around it. I don’t see any reason why not. So, hopefully, cooler heads prevail, we look at this pragmatically and we get some National fans out there because trust me, as ball players, we definitely miss them, and we miss the atmosphere that they bring.”
Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first ever draft pick in 2005, said one of the reasons he opted out of the 2020 season was because there would be no fans in the stands. There are legitimate concerns about exposing players’ families to higher risks, but the first baseman admitted having fans in the stands helps a player push through a difficult day.
“I think there are safe ways to go about it,” Zimmerman said. “I know every state, city, they have their own rules for different reasons, and that’s way above my pay grade. But if you can safely implement it, or if you can start it at 10 or 15 percent and see how that goes for a couple weeks or a month, and then gradually build up, I think it would be good for everybody.”
The news from the District on Tuesday doesn’t preclude that possibility, but it pushes an answer for Opening Day down the road.
“I’m hoping that within the next few weeks they revisit,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Tuesday. “Everything goes well, they keep the fans safe and we’re able to get them back in our stands. It’s no secret, I’ve said it before, we miss our fans. They bring us a lot of energy.”
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