With outdoor capacity restrictions lifted June 1, ball is now in court of sports teams

Outdoor capacity restrictions will be entirely lifted June 1, meaning Michigan sports teams…

With outdoor capacity restrictions lifted June 1, ball is now in court of sports teams
With outdoor capacity restrictions lifted June 1, ball is now in court of sports teams 1

Goodbye extra leg room, hello high-fiving a total stranger.

At Dow Diamond in Midland on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that outdoor capacity restrictions will be entirely lifted June 1, meaning sports teams can start selling as many tickets as their facilities fit. Whether sports teams do that immediately is up to each one.

The Tigers, who’ve been playing with an 8,200-fan limit since their season opened a month and a half ago, didn’t immediately announce their plans moving forward. The Tigers have been selling single-game tickets on a month-to-month basis, and already have put their June tickets on sale based on seating pods and capacity restrictions — waiving ticket fees for May and June through 1:17 p.m. Friday, to celebrate Spencer Turnbull’s 117-pitch no-hitter.

Most Comerica Park seats have been zip-tied to promote social distancing.

Other sports teams in Michigan, meanwhile, were quick to celebrate Thursday’s news.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled with her (Whitmer’s) decision, and it’s great the science is finally working for us,” said Andy Appleby, founder and CEO of the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica.

“We’ll go full bore on the first.”

The USPBL, which had 61 sellouts in 2019, played a shortened 2020 season, with just 100 fans allowed in the stands — resulting in revenue drops of 75% or more. The league opens its sixth season May 28, and plans on crowds of 1,000 to 1,500 for the first weekend, before opening up. Jimmy John’s Field can hold nearly 5,000 fans.

Whitmer held her press conference Thursday at Dow Diamond in Midland, home of the Great Lakes Loons, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate. Michigan has three affiliated minor-league teams, in Midland, Comstock Park (Whitecaps) and Lansing (Lugnuts). Their seasons were canceled in 2020.

They started their 2021 seasons this month, with limited capacity.

“We traded bleachers for couches, catchers’ masks for face masks and live sports and entertainment for binge-watching TV,” Chris Mundhenk, president and general manager of the Loons, speaking at Whitmer’s press conference. “Sports fans from across our state put their fandom and rivalries aside and came together as one team: Team Michigan. And today, we have won the game.”

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The Lugnuts, the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s, announced Thursday afternoon that they would go to 100% capacity June 1.

They also are encouraging all fans to get vaccinated.

“We’ve been working toward this announcement for a long time, and so we are beyond excited that the day has finally arrived,” Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson said in a statement. “We thank our city and state officials for their hard work and service and we thank our community for following health guidelines, staying socially distanced, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, and we’re ready to welcome a full ballpark of Lugnuts fans.”

The Whitecaps, the Single-A affiliate of the Tigers, have been playing home games in front of 2,000 fans maximum, selling out five of their first six home games. But they’re ready to change that in June, as well.

Their first home game under the new order is June 8; tickets for July, August and September games go on sale June 1.

“It’s been a fun start to summer,” Jim Jarecki, Whitecaps vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “But every additional fan means more fun, a deeper connection to the community, and a better experience.

“Regardless of the changes, we remain committed to providing a safe experience for Whitecaps fans. Fans will find that baseball at LMCU ballpark is better than they remember.”

Earlier this month, the state of Michigan announced face masks no longer were needed at outdoor events for vaccinated individuals. On July 1, the whole face-mask order will be lifted, indoors and outdoors, Whitmer announced Thursday.

The announcement also means Michigan and Michigan State football likely will have full stadiums in 2021, and is welcome news for NASCAR at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 20-22) and IndyCar on Belle Isle (June 11-13).

Michigan State revealed it is planning for a full Spartan Stadium in the fall. 

Athletic director Bill Beekman made the announcement, indicating a return to normal for college football a season after Big Ten teams played an abbreviated schedule in mostly empty stadiums because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a department we are planning to have a full and robust Spartan Stadium and deliver as traditional a Spartan football experience as we possibly can,” Beekman said in a statement. “I know personally I can’t wait to see the camaraderie among Spartans at the pregame tailgates. And after a lifetime of attending Spartan games, I still get shivers down my spine when the band comes out of the tunnel. We all have our own favorite moments, but it’s being in attendance at Spartan Stadium that connects us all.”

The Spartans, under second-year coach Mel Tucker, will host Youngstown State on Sept. 11 before bringing in Nebraska on Sept. 25 for their first Big Ten home game. Homecoming is a week later with Western Kentucky coming to town on Oct. 2 before conference play continues with Michigan (Oct. 30), Maryland (Nov. 13) and Penn State (Nov. 27) rounding out the schedule.

Thursday’s announcement affects so many sports teams and colleges, some of whom still were assessing their options before making statements.

The PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, played without fans in 2020, already had announced fans would return for the 2021 event July 1-4, but hasn’t said how many tickets will be sold. Rocket Mortgage Classic officials had no update Thursday; tickets go on sale May 27. The LPGA Tour’s Meijer Classic (Grand Rapids, June 17-20) and Great Lakes Bay Invitational (Midland, July 14-17) were canceled in 2020 because of no fans. They will go on in 2021, with both having no capacity restrictions, the tournaments announced after Whitmer’s presser. The Champions Tour’s Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, set for Aug. 27-29, was played with no fans in 2020.

One local sports team, Hamtramck-based Detroit City FC, declined to make a statement on Whitmer’s order, saying it is “still taking in all the information.” Safety remains DCFC’s “highest priority,” a spokesman said Thursday.

Staff writer Matt Charboneau contributed


tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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