What it was like attending Opening Day in 2021

Opening Day in Oakland. April 1, 2021.

Last night was a special night for me. And for Major League Baseball. After not being able to have fans in attendance all of last year except for a few postseason games, the league is back in full swing with fans being able to attend games in limited capacity. Except for you Texas Rangers. Shame on you.  

The COVID-19 pandemic hit across the United States and all of Major League Baseball in early spring last year and the league had to shut down everything. It was only months later into the summer did the league begin playing games. No fans in attendance and my hopes of attending a big league game that season was dashed. 

I usually find myself in Oakland for a handful of games every year to see my hometown A’s. Since moving to Los Angeles, being able to attend games at the Coliseum has been challenging but I have found ways to fly or drive back home. The team didn’t allow any fans in attendance at all last season, opting for cardboard cutouts among other silly gimmicks. But this season, they’re letting fans in at a limited capacity (20 percent) and I knew immediately I wanted to be in attendance for that first game. I booked my flight and bought my ticket to Opening Day in Oakland. I had to be there. 

This will be my first live sporting event since a Warriors game in San Francisco last January. The pandemic took away any other chances of me attending any other sporting events since then. But now a little bit over a year later, I am back at one of my favorite places ever. 

The Coliseum site itself has been a vaccination site in recent months and now it’s welcoming fans back for a live event. I wanted to document everything about my experience in my first game back. I wanted to see what was different now than what it was like in 2019, the last season the team was able to have fans in attendance. Here’s what I saw.

GETTING TO THE STADIUM

I landed at Oakland International Airport at around 4 in the afternoon, approximately three hours before the start of the game. It was my first flight since the pandemic and it was pretty smooth. I wouldn’t have done this trip if I wasn’t vaccinated but I am glad that I was able to get my second dose several hours before I boarded the plane. 

My friend picked me up from the airport and after chomping some food at the BART parking lot, we headed straight to the ballpark. We made our way to the ballpark through the famous corridor walkway connecting from the BART station to the Coliseum site. To my surprise, the scene there was the same as it was before. We didn’t have people trying to resell tickets (everything is contactless and digital now), but protesters, bootleg merchandise and danger dog carts were still there.

As we approached the Coliseum, we saw that the lines were already starting to fill up. They didn’t allow people to enter the premise of the Coliseum site until an hour before the start of the game. It was a line that extended through the walkway. That gave a chance for some fans to show off their new anti-Astros gear.

Everyone in the line was socially distanced the best they could and it appeared that everyone had their mask on. Once we were allowed to enter the stadium, the crowd slowly started getting bigger. You could feel the anticipation.

The process getting into the stadium wasn’t too bad. But every corner there were signs telling you what you can and cannot bring and how you should engage in the safest actions possible.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

Upon entry, I started to take notice of how things were different from the last time I was here. There were signs calling for fans to remain socially distanced throughout the stadium. In fact, they had an abundance of signs that left some unused and they were stashed along the side of a wall when you walk in.

The team made a great effort in keeping the sinks in the bathroom socially distanced but not the infamous troughs.

Because everything is contactless and digital, you have to order food on the app. Once your food is ready, then you can approach the concession stand to pick up your food. Fans were reminded by workers to wear masks as well. It felt like any other game where people were free to roam around the stadium. Certain interactive sections were obviously closed off but for the most part, it seemed pretty normal.

However, I did run into an issue with the mobile app. For the first four innings, the app would not load. I just wanted to get a soda. Multiple people around me were also frustrated. Eventually it started working and ordering was a breeze. Aside from that hiccup, it seemed to have worked just fine.

Another important thing about the stadium is that they are really enforcing social distance seating. Even so that they are zip-tying seats so people are must sit in their assigned seats. There are at least four consecutive seats tied together to ensure that everyone is distanced properly. At the end of the game I saw some were broken but most people seemed to be obeying the rules.

GAME EXPERIENCE

As for the game itself, it was very normal. We had the traditional lineup introductions, in-between inning videos and the usual announcements by the PA. Even a proposal!

But of course, the fun came when the Astros were introduced before the game. The booing grew throughout the evening.

One particular fan who wanted to remain anonymous somehow brought in a full trash bin and along with some friends, banged on that bin throughout the entire game.

The disdain for the Astros was tremendous. They even took the BASH sign and modified it for the Astros.

What made this game special was that the fans were really into the game (until the Astros kept scoring) and the entire environment seemed very safe and responsible. The best part for it was actually during the seventh inning stretch. The fact that we were able to sing together like this after a year apart seemed like an accomplishment in itself.

And the kicker was that I ended up on the jumbotron!

IN THE END

It was special to finally end up back at the Coliseum. I feel that the team did a very good job in organizing and preparing for the limited crowd. The signs were everywhere and despite the app failure for ordering food, the whole place felt like a baseball game. It felt normal.

I also felt that it was special that before the game the team took time to honor those who have passed since the last time the team hosted fans. It was special to see the tribute to longtime PA announcer Dick Callahan and a few other important Bay Area figures like Pedro Gomez and Joe Morgan (who got a big ovation).

I think for a very first game back, it was very good. Despite some limitations, the atmosphere was exactly what we last remember. It felt normal. It felt right. And after everything we’ve been through, having a little normal is everything I would have wanted.

Baseball is back and I am glad I got to experience it first-hand. I already have tickets to the next game. I can’t wait for that.

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