Baseball games in 2021: The weird, the wonderful and everything in between
By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
It finally happened.
For the first time since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, I was back in a Major League Baseball stadium.
I grew up watching this game. I grew up playing this game. And 2020 was the first year of my 29 years of life that I wasn’t at a baseball game one single time.
But on Tuesday, for the first time in more than a year, I was at a baseball game. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels played a two-game set this week in Anaheim, California, and I was able to attend.
The feeling of waking up and knowing I'm going to a baseball game that day is something I will cherish so much more now that I know what it feels like to go so long without it.
Things are different now, of course, from the second you pull up to the moment you leave. Once COVID hit, the world as we knew it changed, and that includes the way we attend baseball games.
The differences start as you get close to the ballpark. I always worry about parking for games. Do I want to park a little ways away and spend a lot less money? Or do I want to pay top dollar and park right next to the stadium?
Well, as I got close to Angel Stadium, the parking attendants were all trying to flag me down, with $10 parking signs everywhere trying to pull me in. I decided to test the stadium lot, given that only 25% attendance was allowed.
I pulled in, and to my surprise, it was $10 right next to the stadium. I asked the parking attendant about it, and she said, "We can’t fill the parking lot — no point in charging you a lot!"
Right off the bat, there was a positive: the parking situation.
After I paid, I was handed a guide explaining all the new ballpark regulations. It's all the stuff you'd expect: Wear a mask. Stay distanced from other patrons. No asking for autographs.
From there, I walked up to the stadium, and with the short lines, I got right in.
I walked up the ramp and got a look at the field. Then it hit me: I was at a baseball game.
The national anthem was playing. Mike Trout, one of the greatest to ever do it, was standing not too far from me. Fireworks were going off.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t kind of emotional.
It actually felt normal inside. I walked along the concourse, weaving among other fans to get to my seat. Everyone was wearing a mask, but that feels normal at this point.
I got to my seat just in time for first pitch, and all felt right in the world. The first pitch strike poured in, the crowd roared, and we were underway.
Shortly thereafter, it was time for food and drinks. I mean, are you even at a baseball game if you don’t end up with overly salted food and an extremely overpriced beer?
No. The answer is no.
Well, food ordering is different now, too. You’re handed a QR code upon entry, and everything is done from your seat. You scan the code with your phone, enter your section, choose a concession stand, select what you want, pay and go pick it up once it's ready. The process almost makes too much sense.
Many of the changes we have adapted to over the past year are likely here to stay, and I hope that is one of them.
I picked up my food and drink and went back to my seat. I didn’t miss a pitch — not one single pitch. I left during a pitching change and almost made it back before the new pitcher got to the mound.
Never in my life have I been so excited to drink a $12 beer. It was well worth my $12. Not because of the taste or anything like that. Because that’s baseball, baby. It’s all part of the experience.
Speaking of the experience, there is nothing like being in a packed stadium with fans all rooting for the home team to pull off a win. That certainly is different at games right now. The crowds in most ballparks are limited to 25-40%.
But while it’s not quite the same, there are some benefits. You get to your seat, and all the seats around you are marked off, not able to be sat in. The three to your right, the three to your left and at least one row in front of you and behind you are closed. There is no one within arm's reach, and it’s nice to be able to spread out, put your feet on the seat in front of you and not have to worry about some 7-foot giant sitting in front of you and making you wish you'd just stayed home.
You settle in, enjoy your food and take in the game.
All in all, it was glorious. I got to watch a baseball game again. I got to witness Trout hit not one but two home runs, and the crowd went wild.
Sure, baseball in the age of COVID is weird, but at this point, we're all used to weird. And some of these things that make the experience different are honestly quite nice and hopefully here to stay.
Most importantly, I felt safe. I was at a baseball game with thousands of people, but I still felt safe. Everyone was masked up, everyone was spaced out, and I was able to kick my feet up and watch baseball in person. And for too long, that was something we couldn't do.
So I highly suggest it. Baseball games in 2021 are a different experience but still an incredible experience.
Kids are still screaming and running after foul balls. Adults are still yelling and throwing opposing team home run balls back on the field. Beers are still getting spilled. And grown men are still hugging and high-fiving when their team does something good.
You can still smell the freshly cut grass. The hotdogs. The crackerjacks.
The sights and sounds and smells are all still there. It's still perfect.
At the end of the day, it’s still baseball.
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Ben Verlander spent five years in the Detroit Tigers organization. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Verly32.