Opening Day at Fenway Park is a celebrated tradition in Boston. The surrounding area comes to life as fans and vendors take the place of cars on Jersey Street and Lansdowne Street. There’s a certain feel in the air -- and a smell, thanks to the sausages and peppers -- that lets you know baseball has returned to New England.
Though it won’t look the same this year with reduced capacity and protocols in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, Opening Day will arguably be even more special as the Red Sox will once again welcome fans into Fenway Park on Thursday when they host the Orioles to open the 2021 season.
If you’re planning on attending the season opener or any games this month, here’s what to expect.
Fans will enter the park with pre-purchased tickets using a ticketless entry system. Once inside, a number of kiosks will line the concourse to quickly help fans find their section in an attempt to keep the area clear.
At 12 percent capacity, approximately 4,500 fans will be permitted to attend each Red Sox home game for the start of the season. Looking to attend the game solo or in a group of three? Though tickets will primarily be sold in pods of two to four seats, fans can contact ticket services to obtain odd-numbered tickets, and the Red Sox will try to accommodate. Front-row seats will be available, but nobody will be permitted to sit within 12 feet of either the home or visiting dugout.
“We are using the entire facility, so every seating area will be occupied,” Red Sox vice president of ballpark operations Peter Nesbit said. “We’re using concession stands throughout the entire ballpark, we’re using all five main entry gates. So we feel very confident we can manage the crowd safely to keep everybody distanced throughout the entire experience.
“In the initial capacity run, there’s nobody in the row in front of you and nobody in the row behind you. And only two groups per row, so that you can both use separate aisles without crossing over.”
Zip ties have been fastened to seats throughout the park to prohibit fans from switching seats and to encourage distance between groups.
Equipped with Plexiglas, every concession stand will be open to avoid large groups waiting in line. With a slightly altered menu, fans can choose from Fenway favorites such as hot dogs, sausages, chicken fingers, peanuts, popcorns and more. Beverage options will be limited to cans and bottles, rather than draft sodas and beer. Contactless payment will be encouraged, though cash will still be accepted.
The Red Sox still plan to honor Fenway traditions, including a live performance of the national anthem pregame, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch and of course, “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth.
“We want the experience to be as much like a traditional experience as possible,” Nesbit said. “But we know a lot of things are different, so we have all our health and safety protocols in place.”
As for the area surrounding the ballpark
“Lansdowne Street will be very active,” Nesbit said. “A lot of the restaurants have put in place some of the outdoor patios [and] extended patios that the city of Boston has permitted. So they’re abiding by all of the restaurant regulations. And we’re working closely with them just to coordinate the movement of the crowds.”
Masks will be required for every person over the age of two. Though bandanas, gaitors and masks with valves will not be accepted, fans will be provided with a replacement if their mask does not comply with guidelines. Social distancing will be required, with over 2,000 safety signs placed throughout the park to serve as reminders.
With a dedicated staff referred to as the “compliance crew,” the Red Sox will be strictly enforcing all protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fans are to wear their mask for the entirety of the game, with the only exception being if they are actively eating or drinking in their seating assignment.
“We can’t wait. I mean, it’s been a long time coming. … Last summer was really tough and we can’t wait to get people out here,” Nesbit said. “You know, there’s a lot of people that normally would make the pilgrimage here to Fenway Park on Opening Day that aren’t going to be able to get in here, and we can’t wait to welcome them back as soon as we can.”
First pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET, with Nathan Eovaldi tabbed to start against Orioles lefty John Means. Though there is rain in the forecast, the Red Sox senior director of grounds Dave Mellor didn’t seem worried.
“You never know with Mother Nature and New England weather," Mellor said. "Wait five minutes and it’ll change. … But either way, we’ll be ready. … We’re looking forward to having fans back in the stands.”