WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Spring training has come and gone but ballpark leaders say this season, while different than any before, was a "textbook success."
The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals which call the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches home, have packed up and left with Major League Baseball Opening Day set for April 1.
Ballpark General Manager Matt Slatus said everyone complied with social distancing and mask guidelines with no real issues or compliants. He said fans, players and staff stayed safe and the teams did not have to cancel any games because of COVID-19 cases.
"We're here to drive traffic to Palm Beach County," Slatus said. "We're here to stimulate the economy, but we're also here to get two Major League Baseball teams ready to contend on the field for a World Series, so not only did our fans have a safe experience, but our players did, from the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals."
He also said all games sold out with the reduced capacity of about 1,600 fans. The stadium can normally hold about 8,000.
Slatus adds several of the safety changes put in place will stay for the future.
"By the end of the year, fans were telling us they really liked it, so I do think that hand sanitizer is here to stay, the touchless, cashless ballpark is here to stay, and ultimately these are things that make that fan experience easier, faster, quicker, better," Slatus said. "People who came out to the ballpark these year, they knew what they bargained for. They agreed to wear masks, to come to a ballpark with lesser capacity, you know."
Slatus said that smaller capacity made the experience more intimate for fans, and they still had the same enthusiasm as before.
"This spring training was nothing short of a bizzaro world, but it came with its own pleasures and excitements," he said. "We know that our fans came in from Houston. They came in from D.C. They did it safely, but they are staying with our hoteliers, they are eating at our restaurants locally, and while it may not have been those 8,000 folks a day, we're proud to be a part of this recovery."
Slatus added he fully expects next year's spring training in 2022 to open with a full stadium.