Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Tuesday that large indoor and outdoor venues such as Camden Yards can reopen at 50% capacity beginning Friday clears one obstacle to fans returning to Orioles games this season, but it is still unclear if Baltimore City will impose more strict measures ahead of Opening Day.
The Orioles are awaiting approvals from all parties involved, including Major League Baseball and Baltimore City, before announcing plans for whether and how fans might be able to attend their home opener April 8 against the Boston Red Sox and the rest of the full 81-game home schedule they have planned.
MLB’s guidelines required six feet between each group of fans, with tickets sold in pods of two, four and six. Most MLB teams have announced plans to allow some fans, with as many as 21,363 (42.6% capacity) permitted at Coors Field in Colorado to as few as 1,000 at Comerica Park in Detroit. The Orioles have explored various capacity levels as part of their preparations.
“As always, the health and safety of our entire Birdland community remains our top priority,” the team said in a statement. “In accordance with Governor Hogan’s announcement yesterday, we are continuing to work with the city of Baltimore, state officials, and Major League Baseball to safely welcome fans back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards with proper social distancing guidelines. As soon as we are able, we will share our plans to re-open along with our gameday health & safety protocols.”
A day after Hogan’s announcement, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the possibility of having fans at Camden Yards was “really exciting for everybody.”
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the team was preparing for all possibilities as to how many fans could come to games, and when that would begin.
“I think we’re planning for hosting people as soon as we possibly can, and we’re very optimistic,” Elias said.
Masks and 6-foot distancing will still be required at Oriole Park, Hogan said, which might prevent the Orioles from reaching 50% of the nearly 46,000 available seats. He said the team has been in discussions with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the health department about safety plans.
Hogan said at his news conference that local leaders can still impose more restrictive public health measures than what is allowed at the state level, though language in the governor’s new executive order caused some confusion among local leaders.
In past orders from the state government, city and county leaders had the right to impose regulations that were more strict than the state’s. Hogan’s latest order, however, declared such rules “null and void” come 5 p.m. Friday.
Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said Maryland counties have the power in state and local law to issue public health orders. Ricci didn’t immediately respond Tuesday night to questions about whether any particular local restrictions would be affected by the order, or if the governor consulted with mayors or county leaders before drafting it.
Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement that the city was still reviewing Hogan’s order.
“Baltimore will continue to lean on the direction of healthcare professionals and local data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths, and new cases to shape reopening efforts in Baltimore,” Scott said.
In November, state and city officials allowed Ravens fans at one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. City officials allowed fewer fans at M&T Bank Stadium than the state’s 10% capacity limit allowed, and 4,345 fans ultimately attended the game. Further plans for fans the rest of the season were abandoned as virus cases spiked later that month.
The Maryland Stadium Authority — the landlord of the Orioles and Ravens on behalf of the state — did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the order’s impact on Camden Yards.
The Orioles, along with the rest of MLB, played a 60-game regular season in 2020 behind closed doors to limit the spread of COVID-19 at stadiums. Fans were allowed in reduced capacity in the postseason and the World Series, and, beginning late last month, all clubs got to test out operations with limited fan presence at their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.
At the Orioles’ spring training home in Sarasota, Florida, Ed Smith Stadium is operating at 25% capacity. Tickets were sold in groups of two and four, with seats in between the groups zip-tied shut to prevent groups from mixing. Fans were required to wear masks while moving around the stadium and could only remove them while eating or drinking at their seats.
Tickets were quickly sold out for the Orioles’ 14-game home spring training schedule once they went on sale to the general public.
With that as a blueprint of sorts, the Orioles submitted their plans for having fans at Camden Yards for the April 8 home opener to state and city officials. They announced promotional giveaway items last year as if fans would be in the stands.
Hogan on Tuesday eased several coronavirus restrictions in the state, including lifting all capacity limits at restaurants while keeping in effect the state’s mask mandate.
“Over the last few weeks, as we marked one year of grappling with this deadly virus, many of us have been recalling out ‘lasts’ — the last time we ate inside of a restaurant, the last time we celebrated a big occasion with family and friends, the last time we went to a ballgame, the last time we took a family vacation,” Hogan said. “In the weeks and months ahead with continued vigilance, we will instead begin to mark new ‘firsts.’”
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Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.