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Reflections on going back to the ballpark to watch Cubs baseball

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The Cubs begin their home spring season at Sloan Park this afternoon.

The Home Plate Gate at Sloan Park in March 2020
Al Yellon

The last time I was at a ballpark for a Cubs baseball game was March 11, 2020, nearly a year ago. It was an ordinary spring training game — the Cubs broke up a nascent no-hitter and won 3-2.

What I remember most about that evening, though, was while I was idly scrolling through Twitter between innings, up popped this tweet:

Oh.

That was the first real inkling I had that things were about to change for all of us, not just for baseball but for all of life. I went to Sloan Park the next morning as the Cubs were scheduled to face the Dodgers. It was raining off and on that day, and around 10:20 a.m. March 12, 2020 the game was cancelled due to rain and later that day, MLB suspended Spring Training and announced the season would be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all know what happened last year, both to baseball and life in general, and I’m not here to belabor that point. (Note: I did sort of “attend” the Cubs’ first postseason game in 2020 by watching it from a Wrigley rooftop. It’s not anywhere near the actual experience of being in a ballpark to watch baseball, so I’m not really counting it.)

This is a new year and we can, perhaps, see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. People are being vaccinated; possibly, by later in the summer we could see full ballparks again.

For now, a little more than 20 percent of Sloan Park will be filled this afternoon to see the Cubs take on the Kansas City Royals. I am, at present, satisfied that the Cubs’ COVID-19 protocols will keep me and other fans at Sloan Park safe. If for any reason I feel it’s not working, I’ll stop going to these games, but for now, I anticipate being at all 14 of the Cubs’ spring home games.

Beyond the small crowd — it’ll be fewer than half of the smallest Sloan Park crowd ever, 8,313 on February 28, 2018 — the baseball could be a bit weird with various rules put into effect for this spring only. Expect most if not all Cubs spring games to be seven innings, except tomorrow vs. the Mariners, which will go nine apparently because ESPN, televising the game, asked for that.

But it’s baseball, and I’m glad we’re back to even having some fans in attendance, presuming it continues to be done safely. I anticipate writing two articles after today’s game, first, a traditional game recap, and the second about what the fan experience at Sloan Park is like.

Go Cubs. Play ball!