Throughout the pandemic, I missed few things more than a night at the ballpark. As much as I enjoy watching my Nats on TV or listening to Charlie and Dave call the game on the radio, it’s impossible to replicate the gameday experience at home. When I heard that the D.C. government was allowing Nationals Park to 25% capacity for the first few homestands of the 2021 season, I practically counted down the days until I was back at the ballpark. Finally, a whole 564 days after the last baseball game I attended (Game 4 of the 2019 World Series), I went to the Nationals-Phillies game on May 12th.
While it was undeniably exciting to be back at Nationals Park, at the same time, it felt very strange to be at a sporting event during a pandemic. Signs throughout the ballpark reminded fans to adhere to Covid safety guidelines, and many things that were normal in prior seasons were drastically different. Here’s what it was like to attend a Nationals game at limited capacity!
I arrived at Nationals Park immediately after the gates opened. I entered the stadium through the left field gate; all fans were to enter the stadium through the gate listed on their ticket. The Phillies were taking batting practice when the gates opened, but unlike in previous years, only those with tickets in the outfield are able to try and catch balls during batting practice. Fans also can not lean against the standing room railings on the concourse in center field. At the time, masks were required for all fans, regardless of vaccination status; now, if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask while outside. I did not come across anyone who was not wearing their mask, so even if I had not been fully vaccinated before I went, I would have felt safe at the game.
Nationals Park is now cashless, and all food is served in a resealable box. Each seat had a barcode which made it possible to order food contactless and have it delivered to your seat during the game, which was a nice luxury. Seats that weren’t used were zip-tied closed so nobody could break the social distancing “pods” set up. Although I eventually settled on dinner from the Change Up Chicken by my seat, I had never seen a shorter line at the Nats Park Shake Shack.
All in all, the Nationals did a good job of maintaining the gameday experience while making the ballpark safe during the pandemic. As vaccination rates increase and cases of Covid-19 decrease in the DMV, the Nationals should be good to go for full capacity games in June. It felt eerie to be at a rivalry game with a crowd of only 8,000, a stark difference from the electric atmosphere of sold-out playoff games that I had most recently been to. I’m looking forward to returning to the pre-pandemic normal of packed sporting events, and we should see a sold-out Nationals Park sooner rather than later.