Just 46 days from Friday, the Rocket City Trash Pandas will host the team’s first-ever home game at Toyota Field. After a lost season in 2020, the home opener has gained new meaning.
But as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, new rules and policies will make the ballpark experience a little different come May 11.
On Friday, the team announced that Toyota Field would go completely cash-free. Credit and debit cards can be used throughout the park and the team’s Trash Cash Card -- which can be purchased with cash at the park -- offers an option for those who don’t normally carry cards.
“It’s much cleaner, much less contact between folks,” team president Ralph Nelson said. “We’re opening the stadium for the first time and if there’s ever been a time to introduce that, it’s when you open the doors for the first time.”
The decision to remove cash from the park was made by the team, but other external factors are also impacting the fan experience.
Major League Baseball is requiring all fans over the age of two to wear masks at games this year, regardless of local or state laws. Additionally, the league is mandating the creation of “buffer zones” behind dugouts and bullpens, separating the fans and athletes with plexiglass dividers.
“We actually designed this stadium with the thought in mind that there would be a lot of interaction between our fans and our players, so that’s going to be a little difficult, a little harder for people to get autographs, a little harder for folks to gather together waiting for the players to come by after batting practice and that kind of thing,” Nelson explained.
Nelson said he has spoken to MLB about these rules and was told that they need to be in place at the start of the season, though he is under the impression they might not last all year.
One question that still lingers is what kind of attendance will be allowed at the park? MLB has left that decision up to local governments.
That makes Nelson optimistic. He believes that Alabama often follows Texas’ lead and hopes that the Texas Rangers’ full attendance will be a sign of what’s to come for his team when Gov. Kay Ivey makes a decision.
“The indications I get -- without putting words in the governor’s mouth -- is that it’s going to be pretty much wide open and it will be up to people’s own judgments as to how they want to interact with other people,” he said.