Red Wings hopeful for fans returning, but COVID testing, capacity limits present challenges

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As reopening guidelines ease up, so does the cold, and with the warm weather, comes baseball.

Come spring, America’s past time will come into full swing. The Rochester Red Wings have been without baseball for a long time.

With a home opener scheduled for May 18, the Wings are trying to negotiate the current guidelines of only 10% capacity, following a handful of initial delays, but even with that, they can’t wait to back to it.

They all went home in mid-March last year, and Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason says they were all expecting to be back at work in two weeks. As we all know, that would not be the case.

All of them thought that this year, it would be a lot more normal, full of the staples, like the crack of the bat, a fastball to the catcher, and a runner stealing second. All iconic sounds of the bat and ball classic, but none of those are the favorite sounds of Mason.

“Just the roar of the crowd,” he said. “The roar of the crowd, the sounds of the game, but the people — that’s what I miss the most. Just to see people leave with a smile on their face, win or lose, that’s what it’s all about.”

Watching a baseball game at this now eerily empty Frontier Field is high on the post-pandemic list for many Rochesterians, but the Wings have been wrapped up for well over a year now.

However, with a healthy dose of some A+ content from their social media team, the Wings have been at least able to stay in the public’s minds.

“We really wanted to make a point of being an outlet for people to have fun,” Mason said. “We know it’s been really hard on everybody. Baseball is for everybody, but even if you don’t like baseball, you can come to Frontier Field and have a blast.”

But it’s not jut fun posts, memes, and other promotional ideas. The Wings sold “grim and depressing” merch, held dinners on the diamond, and according to Mason, kept Spikes hard at work by interacting with kids in the community.

Though one number is inescapable:

“It’s going to be over 600 days between Red Wings games,” he said.

With the pandemic checking our swing at every at bat, the Wings find themselves at the plate with an 0-2 count. Facing the the reshuffling of the Minor Leagues, and a possibly crippling capacity restriction.

“Right now our capacity is at 10%,” he said. “Which is challenging, but it’s better than zero. Back in February, the capacity was zero,but that went for indoor as well as outdoor venues. But we’ve been led to believe that as more people get vaccinated, that capacity could go up. Right now, we’re the same as indoor venues … We’re hoping for a change in that by the time we open.”

Frontier Field has a seating capacity of 10,200 seats. If standing room and employee capacity is included, that raises it to 14,600. Whether or not the capacity percentage is the seat number or the total capacity, Mason says either presents a significant financial challenge.

Another in the list of these challenges is the mandated testing. Mason says that currently a negative PCR test must be completed 72 hours ahead of entrance, or proof of vaccination. As of right now, Monroe County is only offering assistance for MLB-required construction.

“The county has been very supportive of our efforts, and have been great to work with as we navigate through this process,” Mason added in a statement.

News 8 has asked Monroe County for further information on their partnership, but has received no response as of Monday afternoon.

Still, Mason is a patient and optimistic hitter, waiting for the perfect moment for a home run. He’s hopeful that once the players and more Monroe County denizens get their shot, they can get a ticket to the big show.

So although the crowd noise might not be there, a slow trot to home might be the perfect for us to celebrate a COVID strikeout.

As for the 50 degree guarantee? With a start date in May, Mason said chances are looking good.

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