It almost could have passed for a normal late summer night, even if it cost me a few extra pennies.
But there were still reminders all around us signaling these are abnormal times.
One evening last week, I attended my first live baseball game of 2020. In a typical summer, it would be unthinkable that I would have waited until August to take in my first baseball game of the year. If these were regular times, by August I’d have been to several live games. A few University of South Carolina games in the spring, a few minor league games in the summer. There would undoubtedly been at least one trip down to Atlanta to see the Braves play by now, and my buddies and I would likely have already taken our annual trip to some far-flung city, continuing our long mission to visit all 30 Major League parks.
Alas, this summer has, obviously, been far from normal. The novel coronavirus pandemic has wiped out or altered so many activities and events that it would be near impossible to count them all. It’s been felt in Greenwood, of course, as the annual South Carolina Festival of Discovery barbecue and blues bash — which draws tens of thousands of people to Uptown Greenwood each year — was first postponed, then ultimately canceled because of COVID-19.
The baseball landscape also been significantly impacted by the virus. The college season was called off not long after it got started, while the minor league season was canceled after the Major Leagues announced they wouldn’t be providing players for their farm teams. The Major Leagues have started a truncated season in recent weeks, but are playing without fans in the stands. So, the idea of attending a high-level ballgame has been essentially impossible.
But last week, my daughter and I had an opportunity to go to see a game. The Lexington County Blowfish, a summer woodbat team comprised of college players from schools across the South, have been allowed to play games this summer, with a host of restrictions and safety precautions in place. The team’s stadium is only a few miles from our house, but I’ll admit I’ve been hesitant to go see a game this year, for obvious reasons. Last week, we finally decided to venture out and give it a try.
It was a different experience, to be sure. When we approached the front gate, team staff awaited us and took our temperatures, certainly a first for us at a ballgame, but I appreciated it. All of the team’s staff members throughout the stadium were in masks or face shields. Fans, including us, wore masks in all the common areas, like the entrance gates, socially distanced concession lines and the concourse. The team is drastically limiting attendance, allowing only a few hundred fans into a 2,500-seat ballpark. Seats were marked off across the stadium, to make sure groups are sitting socially distanced from one another. In fact, people were almost cartoonishly spread out. And it seemed like there was a hand sanitizing station about every 10 steps in the concourse.
But once we got past all the (much appreciated) precautions, my daughter and I were able to enjoy a nice evening of baseball.
It was overcast, with storms off to the south, so there was a nice breeze that quelled the inferno of a typical South Carolina August night. The socially distanced seating afforded us an unusual privacy at a ballgame, so we were able to talk about things — school, friends, life — in a way we wouldn’t have if people were crowded all around us.
I had a hot dog. My daughter had chicken fingers and a snow cone. I took a pocket full of pennies, and we bet on whether each batter would reach base safely, or make an out. (She quickly gleaned it was a safer bet that the batter would be out. She left with more pennies.)
In the fifth inning, those storms that had been off to the south found their way to the stadium, and out came the tarps for a rain delay. With the home team trailing 9-0, and with the last of the chicken fingers and snow cones exhausted, we decided to head for the exit.
It was certainly the most unique experience I’ve had at a game, with all the precautions in place. But it was nice to be back at a ballpark, if only for a night. Maybe I can win those pennies back another time.