Yankees, Mets allowed to start seasons with 20% capacity

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees and Mets will be allowed to start the season with a maximum 20% capacity.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a news conference Thursday that the Yankees could have up to 10,850 fans for their April 1 opener against Toronto at Yankee Stadium and the Mets could have up to 8,384 for their April 8 home opener against Miami at Citi Field.

Attendees will have to provide proof of immunization against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test. That requirement will be re-evaluated in mid-May.

“The numbers are coming down. We have to start moving forward,” Cuomo said.

Infection rates in New York City started to fall in mid-January but the rate has leveled. The city and its surrounding suburbs have among the highest infection rates in the U.S.

Cuomo began allowing fans back with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in the playoffs, who drew 6,772 each, about 9.4% of capacity at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, for their 27-24 win over Indianapolis on Jan. 9 and for their 17-3 loss to Baltimore on Jan. 16.

“We did testing. It worked extraordinarily well,” Cuomo said. “It was a great demonstration. We’re now going to move forward.?

He announced in mid-February that indoor sports arenas could allow 10% capacity starting Feb. 23, which impacted NBA and NHL teams.

Performing arts will be allowed outdoors starting April 1 with capacities of 20% at venues of 2,500 or more.

Sports venues with 1,500 or more indoors will be allowed 10% capacity and with 2,500 or more outdoors will be allowed 20% capacity. Proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test will be required.

Contact tracing will be conducted to determine whether anyone who attended got infected.

“I think you’re going to see the capacity increase and the testing requirements decrease as we get more evidence. But we want to start safe and smart,” Cuomo said.

Former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and former Mets and Yankees pitcher Al Leiter attended the news conference along with Yankees president Randy Levine and Mets vice chairman Andy Cohen.

No fans were allowed during the delayed 2020 regular season, which was reduced from 162 to 60 games per team because of the novel coronavirus. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole spent his entire first season in pinstripes pitching in an empty ballpark.

New York expects some seats will be allowed to be filled when it hosts Toronto for its April 1 opener.

“My dad’s been itching to get to Yankee Stadium to watch a game,” Cole said last week. “If they don’t let us in for an opening day. I’m going to put the radio on outside the gate and just sit there and listen,” Cole recalled his father telling him.

“I think we could probably get you in,” the pitcher remembered responding. “And then, of course, now it’s for sure it’ll be able to happen, and he gets to see it. So he’s excited, and it’ll be honestly easier on everybody’s family now that we got some access.”

Fans were allowed only during the postseason at Arlington, Texas, where 75,843 attended the Los Angeles Dodgers’ win over Atlanta in the seven-game NL Championship Series and 68,622 attended the Dodgers’ victory over Tampa Bay in a six-game World Series.

All teams are expected to have fans for the start of the regular season and all but Detroit and Houston have made announcements, the baseball commissioner’s office said. Only the Texas Rangers will be at 100% capacity.

Other announced capacities, according to MLB, are: Boston and Washington (12%); Seattle (18.9%); the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and San Francisco (20%); Arizona, Baltimore, Miami and Milwaukee (25%); Minnesota (25.9%); Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kansas City (30%); St. Louis (32%); Atlanta (33%); Tampa Bay (40%); and Colorado (42.6%).

Because of Canadian government restrictions, Toronto will play its first two homestands at TD Ballpark, its spring training home in Dunedin, Florida, where capacity will be 15%. The Blue Jays played home games last year at their Triple-A farm team’s stadium in Buffalo, New York.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.