Openings + Preview

BASEBALL IS BACK

by Jennifer Blot

Curious about what the new season will entail? We’ve got the scoop.

Who’s that masked man? It’s Tom Sweeney, the (recently retired) doorman of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. He’s also a longtime Giants fan and former concession worker at the Stick. His hometown pride shines in a mask from the Dugout Store. Photo by MATTHEW PETTY.

Back in the day (or the year 2019), the arrival of April signified a new Giants season filled with logistics — requesting the day off from work for the home opener (or, cough, another plan), divvying up season tickets, deliberating whether the wait in line for another bobblehead was worth it and plotting where to meet up with friends for a postgame drink.

This year, baseball fans are spared a lot of the superfluous stuff and can simply count their blessings: As of press time, the ballpark will be open (huzzah!). Buster’s playing. Beer is on tap. And the streamlined selection of fare still includes hot dogs, garlic fries and those Crazy Crab’z sandwiches. With the plastic-beer-cup-half-full approach, let’s take a look at the upside of the 2021 Giants season.

APRIL 9  The Giants home opener is on April 9 against the Colorado Rockies. Oracle Park’s capacity will be 20 percent (roughly 8,000 fans). For details on ballpark safety protocols, go to mlb.com/giants/fans/safety

This year, Oracle Park will be filled to 20 percent capacity. Not the party we’re used to, but we’ve seen the alternative. After a year of socializing in pods (if at all), basking in the company of 8,000 other fans may almost feel as good as 41,313. And smaller crowds come with a few perks: There will be fewer of the token loudmouths who at every game belt out cringeworthy cues to the players — and their impassioned (intoxicated?) jeers will be muffled by masks. Plus, the odds of catching a foul ball should improve exponentially with less competition in front of you, next to you … or behind you. If you’re a season ticket holder, you’ll be among the first fans considered for entrance to the park. And those with luxury suites don’t have to trim their guest list as drastically — box capacity will be at 25 percent.

There are a few new things to expect once you’re inside the park. The relocated bullpens completed last year will finally be seen by fans. The team’s brand-new home jerseys will display players’ names for the first time in two decades and now include the familiar swoosh of MLB’s new official jersey supplier. Nike has also forayed into licensed MLB merchandise, which you’ll find at the Dugout Store, along with a nice fresh assortment of branded face masks and neck gaiters (we suspect the solid orange mask with “SF” in black lettering will be the hit of the season).

As for what to expect on the field, we checked in with Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “This team has demonstrated a lot of resilience this spring. We’re still dealing with the demands of the COVID environment, and our staff has asked a lot of them physically,” he says. “We challenge them with high-intensity practice sessions every day, and they’re stepping up to meet that bar. It’s an impressive group.”

If you aren’t one of the lucky 20 percenters in the stands, take solace in the fact you will be able to read superb game recaps by the San Francisco Chronicle’s new Giants beat writer Susan Slusser, who stepped into the role this season following the retirement of longtime beat writer Henry Schulman. Slusser spent much of her nearly 30-year career covering the Oakland A’s and has won more sports writing awards than we can keep track of (including one from the Associated Press Sports Editors just last month). Based on what she saw at spring training, Slusser offers some promising words.

“One thing I’m finding especially enjoyable about the Giants is that they’re young, they’re fun, and you can see there is a plan in place,” Slusser says. “They’re developing some good talent, making a lot of smart additions — and I expect that next winter they will make some very splashy moves for some big names. That’s why this season should be especially fun for true fans — this is when the groundwork is being laid for another potential dynasty but some parts from the old ones are still around. Buster!”

Giants Senior Vice President of Community Relations and Public Affairs Shana Daum notes that the ticket office is working tirelessly on a seating manifest and stressed that everyone at the ballpark is committed to the Giants FanSafe program of health and safety protocols for staff and fans. It includes new wayfinding, a mobile payment system for concessions, setting up tons of hand sanitizer stations throughout the park and grouping seats in pods of two to four, positioned six feet from other pods. It also means suspending a few past traditions like roving food vendors and special promotions and giveaways.

“Even though it will be different, we’ll be together,” says Daum. “Hope springs eternal. That’s the beauty of sports: Every year you get a chance to start over.”

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