Minor league teams eager to welcome fans back to the ballpark

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By SAMUEL BLATCHFORD
Capital News Service 

LANSING — Baseball fans rejoice! 

Michigan minor league teams are getting ready to welcome fans back to the ballpark this summer, although the game day experience for fans and players will look a bit different from previous years. 

Michigan has three minor league baseball teams: Lansing Lugnuts in Lansing, Great Lake Loons in Midland and West Michigan Whitecaps in Comstock Park. 

The West Michigan Whitecaps, a High A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, are working to bring fans a safe and fun experience at the ballpark, according to Steve VanWagoner, the team’s director of marketing and media relations. 

The Whitecaps are prepared to host fans with new safety requirements. They’ll have to wear masks while moving around the ballpark but can take them off once at their seats, he said.

As for ticketing, the Whitecaps will accommodate multi-game ticket holders and groups first, then sell individual tickets once capacity opens up, VanWagoner said.

VanWagoner said the team plans entertainment options, adding that fireworks are still popular. 

In the interest of player safety, autographs and fans on the field won’t be permitted, following guidelines set by Major League Baseball and the Whitecaps organization, he said.

The Lansing Lugnuts, a High A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, and West Michigan Whitecaps practiced social distancing last summer with movie nights at their ballparks. 

The Lugnuts’ Jackson Field hosted 50 events in 2020, general manager Tyler Parsons said.

The Lugnuts will return with fans in attendance for the 2021 season with a COVID-19 readiness plan for safety.

The experience at Jackson Field will be different this year because the state is limiting stadiums to 20% of their capacity, which is 2,200, according to Parsons.

Under the readiness plan, the Lugnuts will offer socially distanced seating at games. Fans won’t have anyone sitting directly in front or next to them and must wear face masks unless actively eating or drinking in their seat. 

Tickets will be sold in pods of up to six people and ushers will enforce social distanced seating. 

Lugnuts players will see a big change in game day traditions and won’t be allowed to use gum, seeds and peanuts on the field or in the clubhouse and dugout. 

Concessions at Jackson Field will be cashless, Parsons said. The Lugnuts will debut a StaySeated mobile ordering app for food and beverage for delivery at fans’ seats or at a pick-up point in the stadium.

“It’s been over 550 days since the last Lugnuts baseball game here at Jackson Field, and we are incredibly excited to welcome fans back,” Parsons said.