Columbus Clippers Prepares For Home Opener After Long Layoff
Baseball is back in Columbus as the Clippers host their first home game Tuesday at Huntington Park. They kicked off the season last week in Louisville and won four of five games.
It’s a welcome return for baseball fans and nearby businesses after COVID-19 canceled the entire 2020 minor league season. But even though baseball is back, the experience at Huntington Park will look and feel a bit different.
Team historian and media director Joe Santry points out the new netting extending all the way to the foul pole, and he describes how new lights will be able to go red, white and blue following a runner around the bases. But the most obvious change at the ballpark will be the headcount
“Well our full capacity is 10,100 and we’re about at 30%,” Santry said. “We do have parts of the seats that are blocked off.”
About every other row they’ve got plastic straps blocking off the entrance to help maintain physical distance. In addition to barriers, the club will require spectators wear masks, stay in their seats except for restroom or concession runs, and keep their masks on unless they’re eating or drinking.
Although limited capacity puts a ceiling on the team’s financial success, just about anything would be an improvement on 2020. With no fans in the stands the county-owned team saw revenue drop by about $10 million.
Team employees like Santry are happy for a return as well, even on a limited basis. He explains the club had to furlough most of the staff after the season was called off, and now they’re excited for something like normalcy. They got a small taste of it in the month or so as the team hosted a handful of exhibition games to tune up for the season.
“And it was just fun being back, the fans loved it,” Santry said. “It was like being back home.”
A few blocks away local businesses in the Arena District are eager to see baseball fans, too. Tim Emery owns Boston’s, a sports bar and restaurant across the street from Nationwide Arena. He’s been pleasantly surprised with how much business has picked up since hockey returned. On Blue Jackets game nights, Emery said they’re making about 65% as much as they did prior to the pandemic.
“This is the last week of hockey and unfortunately there will be no playoffs for the Blue Jackets this year,” Emery said. “But I’m very optimistic long-term about the venues. I think the Clippers probably will get to 100% capacity sometime this summer, hopefully sooner rather than later with the vaccine out there.”
Emery is quick to note The Crew kick off at their new stadium in July, and Express Live has begun posting events for this summer, as well.