MANCHESTER, N.H. – After 620 days, professional baseball finally returned to Manchester on Tuesday night. That return also brought new COVID-19 safety precautions at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
While signs across the ballpark ask fans to wear masks and observe social distancing protocols, there are other small changes as well such as every other sink in bathrooms being turned off and free-flow condiment dispensers being replaced with small condiment packets. Perhaps the biggest change is the Fisher Cats’ new seating model.
Now, whenever someone buys one to three tickets, they get a set of four seats at no extra cost. The three seats to either side of those seats are blocked off with a red strap, which is also done to the rows in front of them and behind them.
Tuesday night’s game saw an attendance of 2,127 fans. Far short of the 5,396 that came to the Fisher Cats’ last game before the pandemic in August 2019, but an almost inconceivable number at this time last year with orders from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu still in place prohibiting events of more than 10 people.
Brandon Borodach moved next door to the stadium in September and attended his first-ever Fisher Cats game on Tuesday night.
The last time he attended a baseball game was just before the start of the pandemic in Las Vegas. Back then, he couldn’t imagine pulling up a mask to drink a beer, but realizes that it’s the new normal, at least for now.
Borodach says he missed baseball and appreciated the efforts taken to ensure safety, such as the red straps. He added that most, if not all, of the people he saw at the ballpark were respectful of the team’s safety guidelines.
“I expected some form of social distancing with the chairs. I saw some people with masks and some people without masks, but I’m glad everyone seems to be acting respectfully and social distancing so we can all enjoy the game,” he said.
While Tuesday was the first Fisher Cats game for Borodach, it was just the latest of many for Nashua resident Sara Jean Phillips, whose husband has season tickets.
Phillips says she missed the games last year, which provided a family-friendly activity for her children.
Like Borodach, Phillips says she saw most people respecting the safety guidelines during Tuesday’s game.
“It seems okay so far. We’re so used to wearing masks and we’re outside, so we’re pretty comfortable,” she said. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and keeping their distance. On the way in, people were keeping their distance.”
According to Fisher Cats Director of Special Events Stephanie Fournier, the team’s primary goal is safety. However, she believes the new guidelines won’t significantly impact the ballpark experience for most fans.
“Everyone has been very accommodating of all the changes. We’re all just happy to be back,” she said. “You’re still able to come to the ballgame, you’re still able to get a hot dog and a beer, you’re just a little further away from everybody.”
The new safety guidelines are just one of several changes the Fisher Cats have seen this season, such as six-game series each week from Tuesday to Sunday, the elimination of the Eastern League and its playoffs, and the Tuesday debut of the Somerset Patriots, who replaced the Trenton Thunder in what is now known as the Double-A Northeast.