NEW BRITAIN â€“ Thursday nightâ€™s season opener for the New Britain Bees after nearly six weeks of delay had the looks of anything but a normal night at the ballpark.
Fans walked the concourse of New Britain Stadium with facemasks instead of face paint, separated by taped markings on the concrete floor, each six feet apart from the other. Players occasionally poked their heads out of the dugout, also wearing masks. Back in the stands, every other row was empty, while sanitizing stations were spread out throughout the stadium.
But for the 1,500 fans on hand to watch the Bees bring baseball back to the Hardware City, a night at the ballpark was a welcomed return to normalcy, even if certain aspects of the experience were drastically different from a typical trip to see a baseball game.
â€śIt's very exciting,â€ť said New Britain resident Paris Orfanipis, who was seated behind home plate to watch the Bees begin their Futures League era with a 6-0 win over the Worcester Bravehearts. â€śIt's a new beginning for the summer, and I'm looking forward to coming and watching all of the games.â€ť
With health protocols allowing only 25 percent capacity, the Bees sold all but 300 tickets by noon on Thursday, and by the time the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by city health director Sergio Lupo, all available tickets were taken. It didnâ€™t look like a normal sellout with open seats separating each group of fans, but many in attendance were pleasantly surprised at how many came out to celebrate baseball returning to New Britain.
â€śI'm surprised that this many people came because of the lockdown...and seeing games last year when [the Bees] were in the Atlantic League, there werenâ€™t too many people here,â€ť Bees fan Peter Kush said. â€śBut this is a really good crowd considering everything.â€ť
Despite the unique circumstances, fans still made sure to make it feel like another night at the park. Groups gathered outside near Veterans Stadium, playing cornhole and tailgating prior to the start of the game. Fans still chased down foul balls, though made sure to back off when multiple people converged on one. It was different, but it was baseball, and that was enough for most.
â€śI love baseball,â€ť Kush said. â€śI didn't think any of this would happen, so Iâ€™m really happy it did. It definitely makes the summer go by quicker.â€ť
Kush made the trip from Worcester to see the Beesâ€™ season opener, and once he found out the Futures League would be starting play, there was no question where he would be on Thursday night.
â€śItâ€™s the only show in town,â€ť Kush said. â€śThereâ€™s nowhere else to be. It's something we've all been missing. The minute I found out there would be games, I was checking the weather and everything to make sure, and it's perfect.â€ť
Given the circumstances, Thursday nightâ€™s season opener, like the weather, had a sense of perfection. Things were different, but it was baseball, and the city came out to enjoy it, feeling a sense of comfort in both familiarity and the protocols put in place for the experience.
â€śEveryone's wearing masks and are at a distance, this is the right way to do it,â€ť Orfanipis said.
â€śI'm a little surprised, I didn't think there would be this many people. It's a great beginning.â€ť