“We needed the [fans], so that’s great news,” Sox manager Tony La Russa says.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Players feed off the fans’ energy and dig playing in front of crowds more than fans might know.
They listen, they watch and they thrive off crowds, which were absent last season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and until Monday, were still not officially known to be in the plans for some teams during the 2021 season.
And so when Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s expected and welcome announcement that fans, on a limited basis, will return to Guaranteed Rate Field to watch the White Sox beginning April 8 when they host the Royals, the reaction was nothing but thumbs up.
It will be baseball back to being baseball as it was meant to be.
“The way the game was explained to me, we’re all complementary to the two most important things,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said Monday. “The players who play and the fans who pay to watch them and be entertained. You have half the equation if the players are playing. We needed the other side, so that’s great news.”
Fans have been allowed on a limited basis at Cactus League spring training games in the Phoenix area. Most crowds have been below 2,000 fans, but it’s much better than nothing.
“It definitely is a different feeling, a different vibe to have fans in the stands right now,” first baseman Jose Abreu said last week through translator Billy Russo. “But at the same time, we have to be glad that last season was what it was. We were able to play and do what we could do. Now just seeing the fans in the stands and being able to see them enjoy the game again and cheering for us, it’s good. It makes you feel good.”
Second baseman Nick Madrigal, who played his first game of the Cactus League Monday — he is coming back from shoulder surgery — will play his first major league game in front of fans in April after breaking into the majors last season.
“Once the game happens, we’re out there competing, no matter if there are fans in the stands or if there’s not,” Madrigal said. “But there was a part of the game missing. I think everyone kind of missed that. There’s just that extra adrenaline when the crowd’s screaming and you get the base hit.
“Another side of it that people don’t really think about is base running. Sometimes that helps you to hear the crowd kind of roar if you’re going first to third, or if someone makes a diving catch, the crowd roars. Those are things that a lot of people don’t think about. So I miss that. There was a side of the game that was missing last year.”
Said chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in a statement: “We are proud of the important and historic role baseball plays in our country, offering respite during some of the most difficult times or in providing fans with a sense of comfort when circumstances seemed uncertain. We believe this is a moment when baseball can indeed serve our fans and our communities again as we all hope for a gradual return to normal. It’s why we applaud Mayor Lightfoot, the leadership role she and Governor Pritzker have played for our city and state, and the decision today — guided by an unwavering commitment to public health and safety — to allow fans to return to Guaranteed Rate Field for Opening Day.”