D.C. approves 5,000 fans at Nationals Park to begin season

The District of Columbia has approved the Nationals' request to allow crowds of up to 5,000 at Nationals Park, ensuring they will join Major League Baseball's other 29 clubs in playing in front of at least some fans to begin the 2021 season.

In a letter sent to the team Monday night, D.C. Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Christopher Rodriguez said the club's March 13 waiver application to operate Nationals Park with fans has been approved. The team then made a public announcement outlining details for ticket distribution and ballpark safety protocols.

A crowd of 5,000 would represent roughly 12 percent of Nationals Park's listed capacity of 41,418. That figure falls on the lower end of the spectrum among MLB clubs, the majority of which are permitted to fill their parks from 20 to 25 percent capacity. This does fall closely in line with the announced capacity limits for Boston (12 percent) and New York's two teams (10 percent).

nats-park-fans-nlds.png"We are happy to welcome a limited number of the best fans in baseball back home to Nationals Park on opening day," Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said in a team-issued statement. "Our organization has worked tirelessly with the District of Columbia, nationally renowned health experts, including Crown & Company, whose principals have guided FIFA and the IOC, and also Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, as well as Major League Baseball, to craft protocols to ensure the safety and well-being of our players, coaches, employees and our fans as we reopen the ballpark to the public. We look forward to increasing our capacity in the coming weeks. We cannot wait to have our fans in the stands again, wearing red and cheering on the Nats, as we begin our quest for another world championship."

The 5,000-fan limit will apply at least through the Nationals' first homestand (April 1-7 versus the Mets and Braves). In its announcement, the club said discussions will begin this week with D.C. officials about increasing capacity for the second homestand of the season (April 15-21 versus the Diamondbacks and Cardinals).

Given the limited capacity to begin the season, the Nationals said they will offer priority ticket access to Nats Plus members, based on tenure and ticket package size. Members will receive an email soon with details. Single-game tickets for the general public will be announced at a later date, based on availability.

All tickets for the 2021 season must be purchased through either the team's website or other online marketplaces and must be delivered digitally through the MLB Ballpark App. No hard copies of tickets will be issued or accepted.

Tickets will be sold in pods of one to six people, with suites opened at reduced capacities. Extensive safety measures will be enacted, including:

* Required entry and exit at specific gates close to seat locations.

* Required face coverings for all fans 2 and older, except when eating or drinking at your seat.

* No cash will be accepted for food or beverage purchases, parking or at team stores.

* Hundreds of hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the ballpark. Concession stands will have closeable containers for food items and touchless condiment stations.

* Enhanced cleaning procedures throughout the ballpark, including Plexiglass dividers and MERV-13 air filters within indoor spaces.

Though the Nationals were the last of MLB's 30 clubs to officially learn they will be allowed to have fans to open the season, optimism had increased in recent days. Mayor Muriel Bowser all but confirmed the plan to allow 5,000 fans beginning opening night during her Monday afternoon news conference, and word quickly spread to an appreciative clubhouse in Florida.

"That is awesome," manager Davey Martinez said via Zoom following his team's exhibition game against the Cardinals. "Thank you, mayor. Long time coming. So excited to see our fans. They're our 27th man. Looking forward to seeing them. I know we've still got some ways to go, but that's a great step forward."

Opening night will represent the first time fans have watched a game at Nationals Park since Game 5 of the 2019 World Series.

"To me, it seems obvious we can have fans," likely opening night starter Max Scherzer said Monday afternoon, before the announcement was official. "If we can have indoor dining, I think we can have fans in an outdoor stadium. We have Dr. Fauci advocating for 25-30 percent fans in the stands. That's where, like I've said, I'll follow the experts. And that's what you're doing across the league. Everyone for the most part is trying to follow that 25-30 percent to start the season, and that's going to be great. We definitely want to see as many Nats fans out there as we safely can. That seems to be probably the most pragmatic way to go about it."

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