The Houston Astros have become the final Major League Baseball (MLB) club to confirm attendance plans for the 2021 season, with Minute Maid Park set to initially reopen at a maximum 50% capacity.
The Astros’ announcement comes just days after the Detroit Tigers were given the green light to welcome around 8,200 fans to Comerica Park, meaning that when the new season gets underway next month all 30 teams will have fans in attendance in some capacity.
The Astros’ fellow Texan MLB team, the Texas Rangers, created headlines earlier this month by detailing plans to open Globe Life Field at full capacity. No restrictions will be placed on fan attendance at the 40,300-seat stadium, which opened last year. The Rangers are set to be the first major-league team in the US to host a full-capacity crowd since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
The move was made possible after Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that businesses in the state can operate at full capacity. Abbott also lifted Texas’ statewide mask mandate, although the Rangers, like the Astros, insisted that masks or face coverings will be required for fans attending games at Globe Life Field.
Minute Maid Park has a seating capacity of 44,000, with the Astros yesterday (Tuesday) announcing that the 50% capacity limit will be in place for the home opener against the Oakland Athletics on April 8, the first in a three game series running through to April 10. This limit will remain in place as the Astros host the Tigers for three games (April 12-14), Los Angeles Angels for four (April 22-25) and the Seattle Mariners for four (April 26-29) in the month.
The last Astros game at Minute Maid Park that was played in front of fans was Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, with an announced attendance of 43,326. Addressing safety concerns, the Astros said Minute Maid Park’s roof will be open or closed based on weather concerns, like the club has operated in the past.
The club added: “The stadium’s air conditioning system cools outside air, rather than recirculating air from inside the stadium. For this reason, the Astros can operate the roof as we would for a standard season.”
Astros season-ticket holders had until March 18 to choose one of four options the club offered them in the wake of Governor Abbott’s reopening orders for the state. For April games, season-ticket holders could choose between remaining in their seats, relocating to a socially-distanced section in the ballpark, pausing their accounts or donating their tickets to front-line workers.
Astros senior vice-president for communications and marketing, Anita Sehgal, told the Houston Chronicle newspaper that “generally, about half” of the season-ticket holders opted to remain in their seats, where social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
“It didn’t have a significant impact, it just validated our plan,” Sehgal said of the response. “Our plan has always been to ensure we were responsible and to ensure we had an enjoyable and safe experience. Their response sort of helped validate that we didn’t want to exceed 50% capacity (in April).”