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The era of cardboard cutouts is over. The ballpark gates will open to actual humans this season.
Fans will be allowed to attend Major League Baseball games in California, the state’s department of public health announced Friday.
That does not mean that the Dodgers can welcome thousands of fans for their April 9 home opener — not yet, anyway.
Based on the new guidelines and current coronavirus statistics, the San Francisco Giants would be the only one of the state’s five teams permitted to start the season in front of more than 100 fans — or, for that matter, sell hot dogs and beer.
However, the Dodgers said they hoped to announce “a ticket policy for reduced capacity in the coming days.” If Los Angeles County coronavirus case metrics continue to fall, the team could admit 11,200 fans for its home opener.
In a statement, Dodgers President Stan Kasten thanked Gov. Gavin Newsom for his efforts in allowing fans to return.
“Like the governor,” Kasten said, “we’re optimistic that California will continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19 and that we can safely host fans to start the season.”
Under the state’s color-coded tier system, teams that play in counties in the purple tier can admit no more than 100 fans, cannot sell concessions and cannot admit fans that live outside the region. Los Angeles County is in the purple tier, indicating the virus is widespread.
Teams in the counties in the red tier can play to 20% of capacity and can sell concessions. The Giants are the only one of the state’s five MLB teams that fall under that guideline.
However, Los Angeles County and Orange County already have satisfied two of the three criteria to enter the red tier, and officials in each county are hopeful of reaching the red tier this month.
If that happens, the Dodgers could sell 11,200 tickets for their April 9 home opener against the Washington Nationals.
"After not having any fans during the regular season last year," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "any amount of fans is great for all of us, our players, as we look at our home opener to get our World Series rings, to have some fans in the stands would be that much more exciting.”
Roberts said it might be a good idea to consider piping in crowd noise to complement the limited crowd, but he had enough of the empty ballparks last season.
"I think the Dodgers did a great job with the cardboard cutouts of the fans," he said. "I think we did as good a job as we could of as far as piping in sound and fan noise. I think it was the elephant in the room. We understood and didn’t like that fans couldn’t be there, but it’s just the way it was. Even in spring training, just to have fans right now is a big difference.”
The Angels could play before some 9,000 fans for their April 1 opener against the Chicago White Sox.
“Baseball players react to adrenaline,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “They're showmen. You need people in the stands to entertain — to really, I think, play at the max level. I've already mentioned it, last year was different. We were able to do the 60-game run. We were just clamoring to play again. This year with 162 [games], to not have fans in the ballpark would be an entirely different vibe. So from that perspective, it's important to us."
Once a county reaches the orange tier, indicating moderate spread of the virus, teams can play to one-third of capacity. In the yellow tier, indicating minimal spread of the virus, teams can play to two-thirds of capacity.
In the red, orange and yellow tiers, teams cannot sell tickets to out-of-state residents.
The new guidelines take effect April 1, meaning no fans would be admitted to the Freeway Series exhibition games between the Dodgers and Angels on March 28-30.
“With case rates and hospitalizations significantly lower, the arrival of three highly effective vaccines and targeted efforts aimed at vaccinating the most vulnerable communities, California can begin gradually and safely bringing back more activities, especially those that occur outdoors and where consistent masking is possible,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said in a statement. “Even with these changes, California retains some of the most robust public health protocols in the country.”
Until Friday, the state had precluded teams from selling any tickets until their home county reached the orange tier. State officials said the severe capacity restrictions would serve as a precaution, keeping as many people as possible as far apart as possible while the virus is still considered widespread.
The Dodgers’ out-of-state National League West rivals could welcome larger crowds at the start of the season. The Colorado Rockies have been approved to sell 12,500 tickets per game to start the season. The Arizona Diamondbacks have not finalized a plan, but the state’s governor Friday rescinded “capacity limits for businesses” and said fans would be welcome at sporting events so long as local public health authorities approve health and safety plans.
Times staff writers Jack Harris and Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this story.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.