New York Yankees celebrate fans returning to stands during 2021 spring training 



Brooke Salamone, Staff Writer

After almost a year of empty baseball stadiums, the New York Yankees are ready to welcome back loyal devotees to live games this season.

Beginning last week, fans were granted access to ballparks to attend spring training games at a limited capacity.

On Sunday, the Yankees got their start during the Grapefruit League series versus the Toronto Blue Jays at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.

The Bronx Bombers were graced by the presence of about 2,8000 loyal fans, 25% capacity of the normal stadiums.

Welcoming fans this year was extra special for players as empty ballparks in 2020 were a rather interesting challenge to navigate.

For players, the radio-automated cheers, cutout fans and lack of energy did not provide the same environment as years prior.

“The adrenaline just wasn’t there as much as a player,” said DJ LeMahieu, Yankees first baseman. “You come out for stretch before the game and kind of get the juices flowing usually. When there’s no one out there, you really have to dig deep for your teammates and do it. But just having the fans, you know, at least some, I think it’s gonna be good for the game [and] for the country for sure.”

The energy of fans defines the outcome and spirit of a game for almost all sporting events. Yankees manager Aaron Boone shared similar sentiments as LeMahieu.

“In watching other events throughout the offseason — whether it was college football or NFL games — they were different games when fans were there, even in limited capacities,” said Boone. “I’m sure it will be nice for the guys to have that environment and an atmosphere that only the fans can create.”

For players like Yankees right-fielder Aaron Judge who thrives on fan interaction, such as searching the crowd for young fans with baseball gloves, the return of fans on Sunday was a true treat.

“It felt great,” said Judge. “A couple of fans were yelling to play catch; I’ve missed having those moments. I had to just save it until my one last toss and let them keep the ball. With all of the rules we’ve got going on, I can’t be spreading [anything]. I tried to be smart about that.”

Both Judge, LeMahieu and infielder Gleyber Torres shared having a feeling of butterflies knowing they were entering a somewhat normal stadium with a selected amount of excited and pumped-up fans.

“We felt really great. We’re happy to see fans in the stands right now,” said Torres. “I feel like the first day in school, being back. It’s amazing. I think fans in the stands help us to have more motivation and to be more focused on the game.”

For University students, the excitement seems to mirror that of the professional players.

University senior Gene Casazza said “I watched some games this weekend and something about having fans in the park makes it all the more exciting,” Casazza said. “It is really great to see, and I’m eager to return to Citi Field and Yankee Stadium next month for the regular season. I’m happy the players are getting the fan energy they deserve.”

As fans enter the George M. Steinbrenner Field for the spring training series games, all CDC health and safety guidelines are in place for attendees such as wearing mandatory face coverings, maintaining appropriate social distancing (with tickets sold in pods of four seats) , plexiglass and other physical-distancing tools. Sanitation of the ballpark has also significantly increased.

The Yankees expect to have a small crowd on Opening Day of the 2021 season, which is on April 1 in the Bronx.