NEW BRITAIN - It was a cool July night - a perfect one for baseball.
The New Britain Bees, now in their first season in the Futures League, were playing the Westfield Starfires on this Tuesday night.
While many other leagues, including the Cape Cod League and New England Collegiate Baseball League, canceled their seasons because of the pandemic, the Futures League instead chose to postpone its season, a decision that ultimately kept baseball in New Britain alive for another summer.
Driving up to New Britain Stadium, there were already a number of cars in the parking lot, a considerable amount more than when the team was part of the Atlantic League last year. Still, it offered a number of important questions.
How much different would attending a baseball game be during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? Would people follow the guidelines in place? Would everyone try to cram into the seats closest to the field, ignoring social distancing protocols?
Before their season began, the Bees had put a number of guidelines in place not only for their players, but for fans as well. They had to wear masks from the time they were in the parking lot to when they took their seats; lines were going to be marked out at the concessions for people to stand six feet apart; the stadium, which has a capacity of about 6,200, could only hold a maximum of 1,500.
Entering the ballpark, people were walking around the concessions area with their families, masks on. Quite a few people waited in line for food, standing behind yellow lines of tape marked on the floor, waiting their turn at the window. Employees also wore masks. Everyone seemed patient enough. Slowly, people began to make their way to their seats; others began to trickle in and out of the team store. An employee sat at the entrance with a clicker, keeping track of how many people were in the store at all times.
There was an announced attendance of 654, but it was a good sized crowd considering the protocols in place and the pandemic that was going on.
As people began to take their seats, they walked around and picked ones that suited them the best. Most people opted to choose seats in the lower level, but even then, most made sure they left a few seats between themselves and people they didn’t come to the ballpark with.
The Bees had ushers stationed at the concourse entrances, making sure fans were wearing masks when they were up and about and didn’t congregate in too big of a crowd. Every so often, an employee would walk up to the railings in the lower level and wipe them down with a disinfectant and a rag.
But as it has happened during each of the half-inning breaks, hardly anyone got up from their seats. A few people got up, put on their masks and descend the stairs to get to the concessions area. It’s a trend that continues for the rest of the game, even when the final call for alcohol announcement was made later in the night. For the most part, however, people seemed content with staying in their seats.
That was certainly different.
Yet the same thing was true for foul balls that went out of play and into the stands. Fans seemed more interested in staying in their seats than chasing after foul balls that weren’t in their immediate vicinity. Normally, there would be a gaggle of people up and about chasing after the loose ball rolling around on the ground. One fan, however, did make a one-handed grab while holding a beer that elicited some cheers from those around him.
Westfield tied the game in the top of the fifth on a Mark Coley two-run homer and tacked on a run in both the sixth and the seventh innings on a pair of doubles to extend its lead to 4-2. At this point, some in the stands begin to take issue with the umpire’s calls.
“C’mon!” one fan yells from the second-deck bleachers. “How are you going to miss that call? That was right there. Are you always this bad?”
Some things, pandemic or not, never change.
Looking around, it became obvious how many scouts were sitting in the stands. There were a number at Tuesday’s game – around 13, including ones from the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins – taking notes and chatting away from the section directly behind home plate. Like everyone else, they made sure to leave plenty of space between themselves.
As the game wore on, a group took to walking around the lower concourse and watching the game from different spots.
One of the benefits of having people spaced out is you get to catch some of the conversations going on around the ballpark. A handful of scouts standing on the concourse were having an interesting one if you want to call it that, even if it wasn’t about baseball.
“Usually when you’re on the road, you have hot dogs or whatever kind of food is at the park,” one scout said to another, trying to suppress a laugh. “But this guy over here was huddled in a corner eating lettuce right out of the bag trying to hide it. We’re all sitting there like, ‘what is wrong with this guy?’”
“You know what the funny thing is?” the third scout asked interjectionally and now laughing. “When we were in Florida, I did it again.”
So this is what scouts usually talk about when they’re on assignments? It was fairly unexpected.
But soon afterward, they turned their attention back to the game. The scouts already there are holding up radar guys and after each pitch look at the reading before scribbling a note or two on their iPads. Every now and then, a scout would make a comment to a colleague sitting nearby and get a nod in agreement or a comment back. Some simply looked excited – like many of the fans – just to be able to get out of the house and watch some baseball.
The Bees, now down 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth, looked like they’re going to go down quietly in their final at-bats. But a two-out RBI single made it 6-4 and the crowd began to grow a little more excited after being held silent for most of the middle innings. A routine ground ball to third, however, ends the night at New Britain Stadium.
At this point, fans began to get up and put their masks on again to make their way to the gates, leaving the players to mingle on the field for a few minutes before they walked up the dugout steps and exited the stadium.
The stands were empty and quiet now except for a few remaining crew members working on the field.
It was time to go. Another night at the ballpark.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org