With the team’s long-awaited return less than a month away, the Blue Wahoos can deliver a welcome message for fans seeking tickets.
It’s simply that plenty of seats are now available.
Team president Jonathan Griffith told a gathering of media representatives Wednesday the Blue Wahoos were approved by Major League Baseball to operate at 98-percent capacity, which equates into 4,902 seats in the 5,003 capacity Blue Wahoos Stadium.
“We don’t have to do pod seating. We don’t have to have tape around (unavailable) seats,” Griffith said. “Basically where the bullpens are (down each baseline), we will have a couple rows knocked out there for that buffer zone between players.
“We will have our party decks open. We will have all of our other seating available. All of our season ticket holders will have their same seats.”
That was the great unknown until MLB’s recent approval provided the Blue Wahoos ability to operate the stadium at near-capacity for their first homestand, which begins on May 11. It will be the first home game since Sept. 2019, after the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 season.
The Blue Wahoos will maintain their policy since COVID-19 impact to require all fans wear protective masks inside the stadium to assure safety.
Season tickets will continue being sold. Partial season ticket plans and mini plans (five or more games) will begin selling April 15. General sale tickets for each game will begin April 28.
“This has been a long process. We went from 25 percent (seating availability) to 50 percent to 67 percent to where we are now,” said Griffith in reference to various plans related to COVID-19 concerns. “We are just so excited to have baseball back. People are going to be excited. People being able to come out on May 11 will be a great night for everyone.”
The Blue Wahoos will begin their 2021 season on May 4 on the road against the Mississippi Braves. Their home opener May 11 begins a six-game series against the Birmingham Barons. It will begin a new era with all levels of Minor League Baseball now directly operated by Major League Baseball.
The Blue Wahoos are now the affiliate of the Miami Marlins and will play in the Double-A South Division. Each homestand will be six games.
Their ability to sell nearly all seats at Blue Wahoos Stadium benefited by Florida governor Ron DeSantis easing restrictions for public gatherings in Florida and giving all state sports teams the go-ahead to operate venues at full capacity.
The Blue Wahoos staff worked extensively with MLB and were one of the first teams to develop an approved plan that will have include requiring fans to wear masks, have physical distancing at concession stands, and prohibit fans from getting in close proximity to players.
Unfortunately, that means no autographs or on-field entertainment, including a National Anthem singer on the field, at least for the first month.
“Every month, Major League Baseball will give us new guidelines,” Griffith said. “This is how it is going to start. Hopefully by the end (of season), everything will be normal.
“To start off, we are just grateful to have fans back, to have baseball here in our community and to be able to have people come out and enjoy a great ballgame and get great food.
‘We are taking every precaution we can with the CDC, with MLB’s guidance to make as safe as possible.”
Kyle Williamson, the Blue Wahoos ticket operations manager, spent a stress-filled past few months designing various seating capacity plans under various percentages MLB requested.
Williamson and other members of the Blue Wahoos staff measured seat distances, figured out pod seating if needed a d designed various capacities until getting the go-ahead for near-capacity.
“This is a huge weight lifted off all our shoulders,” Williamson said. “I would say we had 15-20 different plans beginning in January. I’ve got five different ones right here (as he held stacks).
“We basically worked through every scenario we could to figure out what we could do safely with the most people. And also to operate with guidelines provided by MLB. Every time we would get an update, we would change it again. As we constantly moved forward, we had to do different scenarios.”
The biggest relief was knowing a month ago the Blue Wahoos would be able to accommodate all of their season-ticket holders. That was the top fear in the early process with potentially having to communicate with season-ticket holders their seats were unavailable.
“That was like, ‘Oh thank goodness.’ The communication with Major League Baseball has been great,” Williamson said. “Just opening the gates for the first time is going to be awesome. To have baseball back… that first pitch in this stadium on May 11 will be just a huge relief in getting back to normal.”
In coordination with MLB, there will be several requirements for fans at the stadium. There will be several requirements.
-- Masks: Face coverings must be worn to enter the stadium. Masks can be removed when fans are actively eating or drinking while sitting in assigned seats.
-- Mobile Food App: There will be mobile-phone, in seat concessions orders permitted during games in addition to going to concession stands.. Use of StadiumDrop.com can be used with in-seat delivery.
-- Bags: No bags permitted except for medical or diaper bags.
-- Multiple entrances: Guests will be directed to enter and exit the stadium through designated gates.
-- Buffer zone: A two row buffer, comprising the first two rows of seats closest to the field. No contact will be permitted between players by any fan. No autographs requests during the first month.
But team officials agree these are small restrictions, amid the bigger picture of having Blue Wahoos baseball return with large crowds at the bayfront stadium.
“We’re very happy,” Griffith said. “We want as many as people to enjoy this place as possible. I was at the Easter sunrise service (organized by Marcus Pointe Baptist Church) where we had 4,000 people. That was refreshing to see.”