“Could’ve been last season. They just fell flat,” said Jay Allendorf, of Joliet, who has been to eight openers in a row. “But that builds character.”
Despite a lackluster first week, fans who flocked to the White Sox’ unprecedented — and rain-soaked — home opener Thursday still had high hopes for a World Series run.
“Could’ve been last season. They just fell flat,” said Jay Allendorf, a Joliet resident who has been to eight straight openers. “But that builds character. … I think they got all the pieces.”
Kevin May, of Riverside, also wasn’t deterred by the Sox’ shaky 3-4 start. He brought his dad, wife and two kids to Thursday’s game.
“They’ll get it together. They’re just kind of figuring things out. I’m pretty confident,” May said shortly after the gates at Guaranteed Rate Field opened for the first time since COVID-19 upended normal life.
Inside the park, fans made their way to socially distanced seating. The unusual arrangements prompted no complaints from the fans who, after all, had not been allowed to attend any games at all during the 2020 season.
But 40 minutes before the scheduled first pitch, the announcement came that the start of the game would be delayed because of rain in the area put a damper on things.
By 3:10 p.m., the scheduled start time, a rather heavy rain put most of the fans under cover, while some stayed in their seats huddled under umbrellas.
About an hour and a half later, though, the tarp was coming off. Shortly before 5 p.m., the festivities began, including boos for the visiting Kansas City Royals — and louder boos for the politicians (not only Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but even Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who shares some season tickets behind home plate).
The Sox were expecting a crowd of around 9,000, adhering to a 22% capacity restriction. They could go to 25% based on city guidelines but are ensuring proper distancing with every available seat.
Hours before the game, tickets were already sold out. Some fans said they shelled out over $300 for seats in stadium suites hoping that would be a good way to further keep their distance from others.
Rob Frayer, who made the trip to “the Rate” from northwest Indiana with his wife and two young kids, could barely hold back his excitement as he prepared to walk through the turnstiles.
“We’re ecstatic to be back. It’s beyond words,” he said. “I missed the smell of the grilled onions. It’s the best.”
Later, injured shortstop Tim Anderson talked to media on a Zoom call about the buzz surrounding a home opener.
“Definitely means a lot. You’re playing in one of the best cities there is in front of the greatest fans there are,” Anderson said. “Definitely excited to have fans back in the ballpark, I’m sure it’s going to be loud and they are excited to see the guys as well. We’re excited to have them as well.”
Outside Gate 4, most fans wore masks but many clustered in line and ignored decals on the ground promoting social distancing.
While some attendees said they were concerned about the city’s surging COVID-19 cases, self-described “die-hard Sox fan” Shawn Greene noted “a lot of guys for the time being are just trying to have a good time and just take in the moment and hope for the best.”
“It’s time to get off the couch and stop watching Netflix. It’s getting old,” Greene said as he tried to scalp a ticket.
But as life returns to some semblance of normalcy, the threat of the virus remains — and could lead the city to pull back on allowing fans at games. Over the past week, the city’s test positivity rate — a key metric for measuring the spread of the virus — has jumped from 4.5% to 5.2%.
Andrew Buchanan, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that figure and other important metrics, including case numbers and hospital data, would factor into any decision to again bar fans from attending games.
But for now, the city’s two major league clubs can continue to play ball in front of a limited number of fans. The South Siders ultimately prevailed Thursday in a 6-0 rout, with Lance Lynn pitching a five-hit complete game.