The world has been a challenging place to navigate for the past year. A global pandemic, the first that many of us have ever experienced, has led to confusion, anger, heartbreak, depression, unemployment, lost time, and most importantly, lost loved ones. We’ve all been challenged in our own ways, and because of the struggles of the past year I jumped at the opportunity to have a glimmer of normalcy.
When I thought that the Arizona Diamondbacks would only be allowing 25% capacity to begin the season, I did not hesitate to invite my mom to the Home Opener when the email flashed across my screen for tickets. I’ve been able to remain in contact with her through much of the past year, the only exception was during her own fight against COVID around the holidays. I justified our attendance by knowing that 25% capacity would feel very similar to a Wednesday matinee game, when I attend most frequently in usual circumstances.
Alas, I was able to grab tickets during the initial release with the expectation I would be part of a relatively small crowd. Having both of us already been 50% vaccinated over two weeks ago, and my mom with the antibodies to add to it, I felt it was a safe risk. I had the experience of Spring Training with the Brute Squad earlier which made me feel comfortable as well.
I’ve said numerous times in the past that the worst days at the ballpark are better than the best days outside of that. I still hold that to be true despite the fiasco that was Chase Field last night. Much of that has to do with how my outlook on life has evolved over the past year. I was fortunate enough to have not lost my mom to COVID, so I just wanted to cherish the experience of being at yet another Home Opener with her. That’s especially true considering the future of next season hangs in the balance of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the MLBPA and MLB. Who knows when we would have this opportunity again? Life is fragile, so we took the calculated risk to create a memorable experience.
And then Ken Kendrick and/or Derrick Hall decided that 25% capacity was not enough making a last moment decision to allow 20,000 fans at the Home Opener. I think Diamondhacks sums it up best:
I want to add to his comment in that, at least in my circumstance, they sold tickets with the expectation that there would be half as many in attendance as there were last night. Sure, I have nobody to blame but myself for not carefully considering another risk analysis when the additional capacity was added. I could have just as easily bowed out then and there, sold my tickets on the secondary market, and enjoyed the game with beers and barbecue at my mom’s house. Regardless, I know there were many who probably felt much more comfortable with 25% capacity as opposed to closer to 45% and decided to purchase tickets for that reason. They may not have agreed to get tickets if they knew 20,000 people would be there. Who knows?
What struck my mom and I almost immediately was how different the experience was, how much everything has changed in such little time. She contrasted the experience with her attendance at the 2001 World Series. That was the first major sporting event following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and nobody knew what to expect. Just like armed military personnel guarding the stadium was foreign then, so were masks and social distancing this time around. We entered, as we almost always do, through the right field gate close to the Jefferson Street garage. That’s a calculated move on my part because it is mandatory that I get food before the game starts at Portillos. But... Portillos was gone. I guess I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was seeing that. Friday’s Front Row and Game 7 were also no longer, with nothing standing in to replace. Just empty buildings and concession stands. It is that nagging reminder that there is still a long road of recovery ahead of us.
We avoided much of the concession stands disaster because we got there right when the gates opened. We’re seasoned pros at this. I knew almost immediately there would be issues that evening. The first hint was that only half of the concession stands were open. Having lived through Pandemic 101 I quickly realized the Arizona Diamondbacks made a critical mistake. They would be funneling large crowds to a limited number of concessions stands and long lines would ensue. Exactly what you don’t want during this pandemic right now.
Which brings me to the next spot on comment from ISH:
I’ve had the pleasure of attending multiple games with him in the past, and somehow we always manage to land on this topic of conversation. It is painfully obvious, even to people who have no professional experience in food and beverage, that Levy’s will never be able to get it right. Pandemic or not, they have never been successful at providing a smooth experience at Chase Field.
We opted to get the beer cheese bratwurst because we aren’t opposed to trying the new items every year. It was... not good. I’ve mentioned before that I take great pride in my own beer brats, so I try not to be too critical when trying one from some place different. It was not beer cheese. It was nacho cheese. With entirely too much spicy mustard and a stale pretzel bun. On top of that, it was obvious that the poor cashier had not one ounce of training on the point of sale machine before we had walked up. That’s not at all her fault, but a failure on Levy’s to provide no training before game one. We were the first and only people in her line, and it took well over 5 minutes to check out.
Having not been satisfied, my mom wanted to try the loaded tater tots before we made it to our seats with first pitch still an hour away. The concession stand problems continued. By the time we walked from right field over to section 139 for the loaded tater tots, the line was already growing at that concession stand. But there was a bigger problem, nobody was being served, and it appeared that managers were pacing frantically on their cell phones. That’s because they were trying to troubleshoot the P.O.S. (point of sale) which was not working at their location. One would quickly realize that “creating the best fan experience in baseball” was all lip service. It was obvious that no preparation, training, planning, or trial runs had actually taken place.
I didn’t realize how much I had missed people watching. I don’t go out of my way to socialize, and naturally do better around those who are more forward with their interactions, like the Brute Squad for example. However, if I was left to myself with nobody initiating conversation I am a natural observer of human behavior. I achieve social interaction in a different way, and I gained that last night having missed it for much of the past year. Yes, the loud drunk people were back. Yes, the ushers failed to get those drunk people to wear their masks. Yes, people were removing zip ties from the chairs to sit where they wanted to.
For all the mishaps that took place on the concourse, it didn’t entirely matter once we got to our seats. What I want to remind everyone of in writing this is that ultimately the experience is going to be what you, the individual, makes of it. Because I will always be able to say that I experienced yet another Home Opener with my mom, that is what I will reflect on 10, 15, 20 years down the road should I be so fortunate. I will probably remain paranoid that I may have made a mistake until two weeks from that second vaccine shot early next week. I’ll chuckle very briefly at how much of a disaster the concessions were, and that there were too many people before I move on to smiling about the memory created.
It helps that the game got far more exciting towards the later innings. The players were undoubtedly fired up having the fans back in the stands. David Peralta probably would have hugged the crowd in left field if he could have. When Eduardo Escobar hit his two run home run to tie the game, I could feel his energy and excitement all the way up near the roof where we were. They’ve missed that energy from the crowd and sure seem glad to have it back.
So yeah. The Arizona Diamondbacks messed up big time last night. They need to take the criticism seriously as it is warranted. But I’m still very grateful to have had the opportunity to be there with my mom last night. Many people cannot say the same, and that is not lost on me.