Some 21,000 baseball fans poured into Coors Field on a glorious spring afternoon Thursday, determined to put the pandemic behind them and welcome the return of baseball.
The Rockies had the second-largest allowed attendance in Major League Baseball as the game returned to home stadiums with fans in the seats for the first time in more than a year. Only the Texas Rangers, with no attendance restriction, allowed more.
The opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers was by far the largest public gathering in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, and seemed unthinkable a year ago as the state was shutting down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
On Thursday, after 463,000 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the state and 6,200 deaths, the game and the crowd were the most tangible sign yet that things may yet return to normal.
“They keep rolling out the vaccines and I feel safe,” said Eric Dugan of Lakewood. “I just kinda look forward to the day when we don’t have to wear masks anymore but until then we’ll do what they do and come out and stay safe.”
Some fans were at least as concerned by the absence of former Rockies star Nolan Arenado, who was traded in the offseason, as they were by the requirement to wear masks in their seats and concourses.
“I feel wonderful just getting out and being here, even though Arenado is gone,” said Anne Cook of Aurora. “I don’t feel unsafe.”
The Rockies had signs on the electronic message board and elsewhere reminding fans that “face coverings must be worn at all times inside Coors Field, except when actively eating or drinking at your seat.”
And fans mostly had masks somewhere close to their mouths and noses during the game. Those permitted removals for food and drink were occasionally extended to phone calls and conversations, and plenty of masks could be seen around necks or covering chins, rather than where they actually prevent spread.
Stephanie Sutton was at the stadium with her husband and two young sons. She has been coming to Rockies’ opening games since 1992, and missed it last year when fans were not allowed at games during a truncated season.
“Amazing, happy to be back, we haven’t missed a single opening day except for last year,” Sutton said, glancing down at her son to start the cheering early. “Let’s go Rockies, let’s go Rockies…”
The national anthem proved to be a powerful moment, something fans hadn’t heard in person, at any event, for at least a year. Under the bluebird Colorado sky, the crowd sang along and cheered loudly at the conclusion, with a military flyover and fireworks, punctuating the moment, and the day.
The Rockies won, 8-5.