The Texas Rangers could become the first major US sports team to play before a full house since the coronavirus pandemic began shutting stadiums and arenas a year ago this week.
The Major League Baseball club announced Wednesday that Globe Life Field will be “fully open” to its 40,518 capacity for the Rangers’ April 5 home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, according to Rangers spokesman John Blake.
“The Rangers are encouraged that the Governor’s Office has given clearance for us to fully open Globe Life Field at the start of the 2021 Major League Baseball season,” Neil Leibman, the team’s president of business operations and Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement.
The announcement came on the day that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed businesses in the state to reopen 100% and lifted the mask wearing mandate – even as health officials warned against the loosening of pandemic restrictions.
After April 5, the team will host games at slightly reduced capacity with socially distanced seating sections. Blake said the total number of tickets sold “will depend on demand” and the team is “currently working through this” prior to single tickets going on sale.
Still, fans at the games will be required to wear masks except when they are “actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats,” according to the team.
The team hosted its first regular season game at the newly constructed, $1.2 billion ballpark, on July 24, 2020, with no fans in attendance.
The pandemic forced MLB to hold 2020 postseason games at four neutral site stadiums in California and Texas – including Globe Life Field.
A limited number of fans were allowed at games at Globe Life Field.
The home of the Rangers hosted the World Series in October – the first neutral site World Series since the 1940s. On October 27, 11,437 spectators witnessed the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the title over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rangers have yet to host a full crowd since the ballpark’s opening.
Abbott announced 100% reopening last week since active Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations were down to levels not seen in months.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he said.
Critics sounded the alarm, saying only a small percentage of the state’s population had been vaccinated – less than 7% at the time – and aggressively spreading variants of the virus could lead to another explosion of cases.
And several of the states’ largest cities – including the capital, Austin – as well as counties and businesses have said they will still require masks when Abbott’s mandate is lifted. On Wednesday, 8.85% of the state population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday urged residents to continue to follow safety guidelines despite Abbott’s order, saying “now is not the time to give up.”