It’s finally official. Fans will be allowed back in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the 2021 season. The Orioles announced their plans for the return of crowds to watch the team on Friday morning. At the beginning of the season, the stadium will have a limit of 25% capacity, or approximately 11,000 fans.
According to the Orioles, they will consult with the city, state, and Maryland Stadium Authority to increase capacity as the pandemic health situation improves. The jokes from those who believe themselves to be wits about how the Orioles wouldn’t have hit 25% capacity anyway are not funny.
It is the case that the 2019 O’s had six home games in April in which they drew fewer than 11,000 fans. Perhaps even though the team is expected to be bad, the chance to go to a game after a year of going to no games and a winter cooped up inside will drive sales to reach the capacity for most games.
The Orioles will also be adhering to MLB-mandated “pod” seating to spread out the crowd with social distancing between unrelated groups of ticket holders. The team’s release said that they will begin the reseating process for season ticket holders immediately, and once that is concluded, single game tickets will go on sale in limited numbers to the general public. There will be no Opening Day ticket sales to the public - that sale is limited to season ticket plan holders.
Aside from the mandated crowd size, fans will have to adhere to a variety of changed protocols while in the stadium. Among these is a requirement to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth at all times except when eating or drinking at your seat. There is no eating or drinking allowed in the concourse area, and no outside food or drink will be allowed.
The Orioles have long liked to trumpet their flexibility in allowing fans to bring in food and drink. I hope that policy returns once the pandemic is behind us and that it does not turn out that the current circumstances are a convenient excuse to change to something less fan-friendly when people can’t get too mad about it.
Another change is that the entire stadium will be cashless in the 2021 season. That includes concession stands, the box office, and parking lots. Along with cashless payments, all tickets and parking will be be handled digitally as well. The box office will only be open for ticket sales and will not have any will call services.
Gates and parking lots will only open to fans 60 minutes prior to the first pitch. and fans will only be allowed to enter and exit the stadium through gates A, C, F, and H. There will be no autographs permitted, and Kids Run the Bases events are suspended for the time being.
For the full list of Gameday Health and Safety protocols, check out the Orioles website. I would guess that all of these will remain in place even if the allowed number of fans expands as the season goes along. With President Biden’s announcement on Thursday that all states should open up vaccines to all adults by May 1, hopefully an expansion beyond 25% capacity can take place not long after that.