'We could not wait': excited New Yorkers return to Yankee Stadium

New York (AFP) –


Wearing catchers' mitts, team jerseys and face masks, fans returned to New York's Yankee Stadium for the first time since October 2019 as the new Major League Baseball season began Thursday.

"It's been a very difficult year because the Yankees mean everything to us. I'm so excited to be back," said 10-year-old David Wickland, who was attending with dad William -- the pair are season ticket holders.

The 54,000-seat Yankee Stadium was empty for all of the Bronx Bombers' home games in the shortened 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 49,000 New Yorkers.

The stadium, which remains a vaccination site, is now allowed to operate at 20 percent capacity as New York eases restrictions, meaning almost 11,000 fans were set to watch the game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

"We could not wait to come here. We would have got here last night if we could have," said 60-year-old Sunny Angen, who arrived two hours before the first pitch at 1:05 pm (1705 GMT).

Her neighbor, Cori Odwak, said the atmosphere was "going to be crazy," despite the reduced attendance.

"It will be as if it is sold out," said the 27-year-old medical student.

Ten-year-old Pierce Reardon said he hoped the small crowd might mean he gets the chance to catch a home run.

"There's a good chance of getting involved!" he said, wearing his baseball glove just in case.

Fans had to provide proof of either full vaccination or a negative test within the last 72 hours before being allowed entry. Their temperature was also checked at the turnstiles.

Once inside, they were to be seated in "pods" six feet from each other and must wear masks at all times except when eating or drinking, a key part of America's "national pastime."

Baseball is as emblematic of summertime in the United States as a trip to the beach or backyard barbecues, with families regularly getting together to watch a ball game.

Freshly cut fields across the country echo with the sound of the crack of bats on balls during long sunny days outside.

Throughout the morning of Opening Day however, steady drizzle fell on Yankee Stadium. It failed to dampen fans' spirits, though.

"Getting inside means way more than the weather. It could be snowing, I'd still come. It could be the hottest day in summer, I'd still come," said 26-year-old Jose Villeneuve.

With most Major League venues operating at reduced capacity for the 2021 season, President Joe Biden criticized the Texas Rangers for opening its 40,000-capacity arena at 100 percent on day one.

"I think it's not responsible," he told ESPN.

Villeneuve, a retail store manager who drove two hours from Philadelphia to see the Yankees, hopes the limited return of fans to the Bronx signals better times, and capacity crowds, are coming.

"This is the first step for me mentally to think that we're getting back to normal, that things are looking good," he said.