When baseball returns to New York City next month, fans will be there to see it. They will just have to keep their distance from one another.
In a continuation of New York’s reintroduction of spectators at sporting events, which has already seen the return of basketball fans to Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Thursday that the Yankees and the Mets would be permitted to operate their stadiums at 20 percent of capacity to begin the 2021 baseball season.
That will translate to roughly 10,850 fans at Yankee Stadium for their Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1. The Mets will be allowed to host 8,492 fans at Citi Field for their home opener against the Miami Marlins on April 8.
“We need that. That New York tenacity, that New York crowd brings a different vibe to the ballpark,” Marcus Stroman, a starting pitcher for the Mets, said in a video conference with reporters on Thursday. “That’s something every single guy in this clubhouse is looking forward to, getting towards the end of the year and seeing that population in the stands start to increase, because we know that energy we kind of feed off of, and it creates an environment that’s hard to play in for opponents, as well.”
The Mets and Yankees both issued statements thanking the governor for the announcement and providing some details of how the process will work.
“We’re really excited about the season ahead and welcoming the best fans in baseball back — safely — to Citi Field,” Steven Cohen, the owner of the Mets, said, describing the announcement as a significant step in New York’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. He expressed optimism that the restrictions — which will be re-evaluated in May — would eventually be lifted.
Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, issued a similar statement, citing the benefits of bringing fans back into the stadium.
“The entire Yankees organization — and especially our players on the field — feed off the energy that our loyal and dedicated fans bring to Yankee Stadium,” he said.
While the announcement is welcome news after the 30 Major League Baseball teams claimed to have collectively lost billions during last year’s fanless regular season, the allowed attendance will be far from what it was before the pandemic. In 2019, the Yankees drew an average of 41,827 fans per game, the third-highest in the majors, while the Mets were 13th with an average of 30,531.
The decision to readmit spectators comes after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States government’s top infectious disease expert, made it clear that, with proper precautions, the risk of transmitting the coronavirus at baseball parks was relatively low.
“The positive aspect of baseball is that most of it is outdoors,” he said last month in a Q. and A. with The New York Times. “And if you space people well enough, you get people to wear masks, you have situations that people don’t crowd at the concessions near each other to get food and things like that, you can pull it off in a pretty safe way, I believe.”
To that end, M.L.B. teams will be following strict guidelines for attendance eligibility and fan behavior.
All fans must present documentation that they are fully vaccinated or that they have recently had a negative test for the virus. And all guests older than 2 will be required to wear masks except when eating or drinking at their assigned seats. Though if spring training games are any indication, the mask regulations may be difficult to enforce.
To accommodate regulations for distancing, the teams will be selling tickets in clusters of one to six seats, with at least six feet between each pod. And to reduce the amount of physical interaction, all tickets will be delivered via mobile app, with no print-at-home or paper tickets permitted.
“Obviously we know the protocols and everything going on in the world, that’s first and foremost as far as safety and health,” Stroman said. “But once we start seeing fans back — even down here we’re starting to get fans in the stands and it’s awesome, people yelling and cheering — it’s starting to bring that environment back to ballparks and it’s awesome to see.”
Tyler Kepner contributed reporting.