Nats are only MLB club still waiting for answer on fans

There are only 19 days to go until opening night at Nationals Park, and there are still a whole lot of decisions that must be made before then. Will Joe Ross be the No. 5 starter? Will Victor Robles be leading off? Will Carter Kieboom be the starting third baseman? Who will round out the bullpen and the bench?

Oh, yeah, and this little question that still needs to be answered: Will any fans be allowed in the park to watch the Nationals and Mets open the season?

In some respects, it's kind of ridiculous that question hasn't been answered yet. And yet, given the ever-changing nature of COVID-19 in our country, it's certainly understandable why this very important decision hasn't been made. This isn't something you do on a whim. This has major repercussions for so many people in the region, and it needs to be handled properly so it doesn't lead to any further problems at this seemingly stage of the pandemic.

But at some point - and that point is fast approaching - the decision has to be made. It can't wait until the very last minute. A lot of things will need to be done as soon as the decision is made, and the people responsible for making it all happen need as much time as possible to do it.

Besides, every other American city with a Major League Baseball team has already made its decision. The only jurisdiction that hasn't announced if fans will be allowed in the park on opening day yet? Washington.

All the others have already revealed their preliminary plan and capacity restrictions. The majority of MLB clubs will allow 20 to 25 percent capacity to begin the season. A few have gone up to 30 percent. The Rockies will allow 42.6 percent. The Rangers will allow (gulp) 100 percent capacity on opening day, then a slightly lower number after that, with a few sections designated as socially distanced areas for those who prefer their space.

The smallest crowds to begin the season will be in Detroit, where only 1,000 fans are to be permitted per state of Michigan regulations (though the Tigers could get permission to increase that number before April 1). The Blue Jays, who are forced to begin their season at their spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., because of travel restrictions in and out of Canada, will be limited to 1,275 fans (15 percent of the small ballpark's capacity). New York says it will allow 10 percent capacity at all indoor and outdoor sporting events, which would work out to roughly 4,200 fans at Citi Field and 5,425 at Yankee Stadium. And the Red Sox will play in front of only 4,500 fans (12.5 percent capacity) at Fenway Park.

So there is a fairly wide range of attendance figures shaping up around the sport. But even the communities that generally have enacted the strictest laws against large gatherings over the last year - Chicago, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Seattle - have publicly said fans will be allowed inside ballparks to begin the 2021 season.

Nationals-Park-Closed-Gates-Sidebar.jpgAnd all of that should portend well for the Nationals, you would think. The District of Columbia, which has the final say on this matter, has been among the strictest jurisdictions in America when it comes to openings and closings. But it hasn't strayed that far from the aforementioned cities. Washington hasn't been a complete outlier in comparison to other towns.

If Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Detroit are opening the doors of their ballparks to fans, you've got to believe D.C. will do the same.

The Nationals may not get as large a crowd as they desire. But they should get something from the District, which in a letter to the club last week denied a request to allow fans but said it would make a final decision by the middle of March.

Well, today is March 13. The middle of the month officially arrives Monday and Tuesday, with opening night looming only two weeks off in the distance. One way or another, the time appears to have come for a final decision.

If D.C. doesn't allow it, the Nationals could be the only MLB club that cannot play home games in front of fans to begin the season.

If D.C. does allow some limited number to enter the park, the Nats will join the rest of the sport in welcoming fans back after an agonizing year that tried everyone's physical and mental well-being.

Whatever the case, it's time to know the answer.

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