For many Chicago-area residents, 2021 won’t feel truly normal until they can go to their favorite team’s stadium and catch a game, and on Tuesday, officials offered a new glimmer of hope that some sense of normalcy could be on the horizon.
During a press availability Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot signaled that she has been in contact with several area sports teams, including the Cubs and White Sox, about potentially welcoming fans back into ballparks at some point during the coming year.
“I think there will be a point sometime this season where you will see fans in the stands at both Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Fields,” she said.
Lightfoot didn’t elaborate on specifics, but said both teams, currently running through their spring training schedules in Arizona, have reached out to her office with plans to welcome fans back to stadiums.
“We’re in discussions with both teams,” she said. “I think they’ve come up with a very good plan and when we’re ready, we’ll announce what the future will look like for potential spectators in the stands.”
The news comes as COVID numbers continue to improve both in the city and the state, reaching new lows in terms of positivity rates. New case numbers are also down significantly, and team officials are hopeful that the progress against the coronavirus will lead to fans being welcomed back into stadiums in the near future.
“We are certainly encouraged by the mayor and governor’s hopeful outlook,” a Cubs team spokesperson said. “We look forward to further discussions to safely return fans to America’s Pastime in Chicago.”
Fans of both baseball teams agreed.
“I’m sure everybody’s ready to get back up and running and back to normal,” one Cubs fan told NBC 5.
White Sox fans feel the same way. Orlando, an employee at 35th Street Red Hots near Guaranteed Rate Field, said business was down significantly last year, and with excitement building around the Sox in 2021, a return of fans to the ballpark could signal a big boost.
“All these years we’re used to all these people coming in, and last year was so slow,” he said.
Currently, both teams are allowing fans to attend spring training games on a limited basis, with mask requirements and plenty of social distancing at both Sloan Park and Camelback Ranch. The famous lawn seating, a staple of spring training in Arizona, is divided up with circles spray-painted onto the grass, and patrons in the seating bowls are spread apart to help keep fans safe.
In other cities, fans are being welcomed back into both indoor and outdoor venues in limited numbers, including in New York, Phoenix and several other large markets.
A final determination on whether fans will be allowed to come to stadiums beginning April 1, when the Cubs are set to play their home opener at Wrigley Field, is still yet to be decided.