The last time the Tigers played in front of a crowd, they were part of the final game of Spring Training, hosting the Braves in Lakeland, Fla., in a game that finished after Major League Baseball announced that camps were being halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, Detroit's first game with fans will be in the same spot.
The Tigers on Friday announced plans for limited fan attendance at Grapefruit League games at Joker Marchant Stadium for Spring Training. It’s an incremental move, but one that could put them on the path to safely welcoming fans back at Comerica Park at some point and give them pointers on how best to do so.
“We’re prepared, we’re ready and we’re confident in what we’re doing in Lakeland,” Tigers vice president of ballpark operations Chris Lawrence said Friday. “And when the time comes -- and hopefully that day is right away at Comerica Park to welcome fans back -- we’re confident we’re going to be able to do that safely. We’re excited for that, and we’ll continue to work with the league and the state to work through those details once we get the final say.”
Capacity will be limited to about 20 percent of Joker Marchant Stadium’s capacity of 9,777, or around 2,000 fans. Tickets will be sold in pods ranging from one to six seats, with at least 6 feet of distance between pods. Each pod will have its own aisle access to maintain social distancing. Restricted seats that aren’t part of pods will be secured in the closed position.
The popular grassy berm in left field will be similar, marked off in 6-foot squares for use by up to four fans each.
“[The berm] is a great spot. Our fans love going there. It’s probably the coolest spot in the park,” Lawrence said. “It’s what epitomizes Spring Training. … It’s a little different. We’re going to have to chalk out 6-by-6 squares for 36 square feet to allow for people to sit within the confines of those marked-out areas. But it still gives them the full experience.”
Similarly, the group areas in right field will have reduced capacities.
“We will look to use the full footprint of the park,” Lawrence said.
Fans and employees must wear masks except when eating or drinking in designated seating areas. The masks must be on MLB’s approved list. Most cloth and surgical masks are approved, but gaiters and bandanas are not, nor are masks with valves.
Concession and merchandise sales at Joker Marchant Stadium will be cashless this spring, with credit and debit cards accepted for payment. All concessions will be sold in packages.
With no pregame on-field or player access, gates will open to fans an hour before game time, with fans socially distanced as they prepare to enter the gates. Fans will be asked questions for health screening, but they will not have to undergo temperature checks. Fans will not be allowed to bring bags into the park except for medical or diaper bags.
Spring Training schedule revised
As part of the Spring Training protocols, the Tigers’ spring schedule has also changed. MLB released a new Grapefruit League slate on Friday, placing teams into regional pods to shorten travel and limit how much time players spend in transit.
Much of the Tigers’ 28-game schedule will be centered in the Tampa Bay area, with matchups against the Yankees (who train in Tampa), Phillies (Clearwater) and Blue Jays (Dunedin). The Tigers will also play two games each against the Pirates (Bradenton) and Orioles (Sarasota), plus their previously scheduled game against the Rays on March 30 at Joker Marchant Stadium to end Spring Training.
Gone are the Tigers’ previously scheduled two-game trips to Fort Myers to face the Red Sox and Twins, and to West Palm Beach to face the Astros and Nationals. There are also no split-squad games.
The Tigers’ exhibition game against nearby Southeastern University, previously scheduled for Feb. 26, has also been canceled.
Spring Training TV/radio schedule released
For those who can’t make it to Lakeland for Spring Training this year, the Tigers will have five games televised on Fox Sports Detroit and 11 on local radio, either on AM 1270 or 97.1 FM. Each of Detroit's first five games will be on radio, Feb. 28-March 4. The TV slate begins March 12 against the Yankees, starting a stretch of three telecasts in four days.