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Sports 'No hesitations': As COVID-19 lingers in Texas, fans relish return to ballpark for NLCS between Dodgers and Braves

05:20  13 october  2020
05:20  13 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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' No hesitations ': As COVID - 19 lingers in Texas , fans relish ARLINGTON, Texas – Major League Baseball dipped its toes a little deeper into the waters of calculated risk The fans have responded: All seven World Series games are sold out, while NLCS tickets remain for Games 2, 3 and 7.

' No hesitations ': As COVID - 19 lingers in Texas , fans relish return to ballpark for NLCS between Dodgers and Braves . Fans were allowed to attend Game 1 of the NLCS between the COVID - 19 couldn’t stop Texas Women’s Foundation from raising close to M at 35th annual luncheon.

ARLINGTON, Texas – Major League Baseball dipped its toes a little deeper into the waters of calculated risk Monday night, inviting paying clientele back through its doors, christening a stadium with two teams from faraway places and, perhaps, getting a glimpse of how life will be for at least another season.

Game 1 of the National League Championship Series pitted the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers and a group altogether absent from pandemic baseball: Fans.

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With capacity limited to 25% and tickets sold in groups of four with neighboring seats roped off, a largely grateful throng of fans trickled through the gates of $1.1 billion Globe Life Field.

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They are here largely because the state of Texas allowed it to be so. Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial, early reopening of the state in the spring caused a summer spike in coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths, which passed the 17,000 mark Monday afternoon.

Abbott has been perhaps the most lenient in welcoming sports back in the pandemic, announcing in June that collegiate and professional sports venues could reopen with 50% fan capacity. MLB staged neutral-site Division Series games here and in Houston’s Minute Maid Park but without fans, but announced its intent to stage NLCS and World Series games with 10,500 ticketbuyers in Globe Life Park.

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The fans have responded: All seven World Series games are sold out, while NLCS tickets remain for Games 2, 3 and 7.

A sampling of fans at Monday’s Game 1 said the conditions laid out by MLB – mandatory face coverings, spaced seating, no reselling of tickets outside a group of four – played a role in their decision to attend.

“With the seating and the masks, we felt very comfortable. No hesitations,” said Stephen Mueller, 48, whose four-person pod included his parents and 17-year-old son, Austin, with whom he’s attended a game at all 30 major league parks.

They wore shirts commemorating the final day of Globe Life Park, across the street. The Rangers’ retractable-roof home was to open in late March, but the industry shutdown as the coronavirus exploded across the country idled it until July.

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While the new Globe Life is a massive and daunting structure that almost looks like it wants to compete with AT&T Stadium – or “Jerryworld,” just across the street – the 1.8-million square foot edifice on 12 acres makes it among the more pandemic-friendly parks, if such a thing exists.

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Perhaps the most unsettling visual in this time of pandemic was in the Grand Slam Team Store in the left field corner, where there was no COVID-19 related cap on occupants, according to two security guards, and social-distancing was scarce as fans gathered around more popular items.

According to Abbott’s executive order, retail stores are to operate at 75% capacity. While that mark did not appear to be reached, there were, by one estimate, upward of 75 patrons inside at one point.

Meanwhile, as fans livened up the joint, there were reminders that this wasn’t an ordinary game.

Fans proceeded through ticketless, mobile entry to a greeting of hand-sanitizing dispensers upon entry. The message boards in the outfield mixed NLCS info and advertisements with admonishments to distance and keep masks on. Every other sink in restrooms was roped off, an attendant sanitizing others after use.

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On the massive monitor in right center field, an advertisement for Spectrum Solutions touted it as the  company providing COVID-19 tests “keeping MLB players on the field.”

Within the expansive concourses, the desire for normality was a little more evident. Mask compliance seemed about 95%. By game time, it was clear there was plenty of room for all to stretch out.

For Jarrod Forsythe, a 29-year-old Braves fan up from Houston for the game, it provided a marked contrast to crowds at several college football games.

“There’s definitely some concern, but we’re wearing a mask, not crowding together like some of them down there,” he said, beckoning toward fans aiming for batting-practice fly balls. “I wouldn’t go sit in a college football stadium right now. It seems a little off.”

Added his friend Thad Adamek: “MLB is doing a very good job. And I waited five minutes to get in. I think the state of Texas has done what’s needed to make it a safe environment for the MLB.”

That’s a marked difference from the summer, when the seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases topped 10,000. While mask-wearing has helped tamp down the summer numbers, they are starting to rise again. In Tarrant County, home to the Rangers and Cowboys, positive cases have more than doubled in the last month, from 1,400 the week ending Sept. 12 to 3,200 the week ending Oct. 10.

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The games have gone on, however.

“If you practice all the right protocols, you need to just move forward,” said Cindy Hibler, who drove in with a friend from nearby McKinney. “I think they’ve done a great job figuring it out.”

So when the game began, there were boos for the Dodgers from a Braves crowd. When a foul ball made its way to Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy, there were fans awaiting when he tossed the ball into the stands.

“It’s a step back toward normalcy where people have the right to be free and do what they want to do,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen said. “If they want to go to a ballgame, go to a ballgame. It’s not fun playing without fans.

“People want to get back to living in the land of the free.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'No hesitations': As COVID-19 lingers in Texas, fans relish return to ballpark for NLCS between Dodgers and Braves

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