MINNEAPOLIS — 45 days.
That's how long Twins fans must wait for the 2021 home opener on April 8 against the Seattle Mariners.
And this year, there might be people in the stands at Target Field -- although that's far from a given.
"They should be able do it at low capacity," Jonathan Austin said while wearing his Twins hat and eating an outdoor meal at Smack Shack in the North Loop on Monday. "I mean, it would be great for the neighborhood."
In a proposal to the state, the Twins have created a plan that would initially allow up to 10,000 fans at home games, representing about 25% of Target Field's capacity. The organization would move to a touchless, digital ticketing and concession system and has partnered with 3M on sanitation and cleaning measures to make fans as comfortable as possible.
"We're all dealing with COVID fatigue," Twins Senior Vice President of Operations Matt Hoy said during a Zoom interview from spring training in Florida. "Any form of normalcy I think would be great for us."
While in Fort Myers for spring training, state rules allow the Twins to have 2,400 fans inside Hammond Stadium, split into two-person or four-person pod systems with requirements for masks and social distancing. Hoy said he hopes the spring training model will serve as a "barometer for how we're doing on our preparation and implementation, and hopefully we can transfer that up to Minnesota in a safe fashion." The Saint Paul Saints, now the Twins AAA affiliate, also showed last season how to safely play in front of fans during a pandemic and have offered their expertise to the major league club.
However, it's up to the governor's office to decide whether fans can come through the gates during the regular season, either at Target Field, Target Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, or any of the other numerous sporting or entertainment venues across Minnesota. During a press call on Monday, state health commissioner Jan Malcolm said the administration is "optimistic" about the possibility of allowing fans at games at some point in 2021, but she did not make any predictions. Ultimately, it will depend on the status of COVID-19 variants, the positivity rate, and the progress of vaccine distribution.
Several weeks before the regular season, it does appear likely that some or even many MLB teams will have fans in the stands to start the year. On Monday, for example, the governor of Ohio signaled that franchises like Cleveland and Cincinnati will probably be able to play in front of 30% capacity crowds in April. Dr. Anthony Fauci also said last week there’s a “pretty good chance” of seeing fans at some point.
After watching the strange 2020 season unfold with empty seats at Target Field and fake crowd noise, Hoy said he shares the optimism of the state health commissioner and Dr. Fauci.
"Absolutely," Hoy said. "Our players feed off that energy from our fans. I think it's kind of a vital component for them in getting fired up to play the game. I'm confident we're going to get there."
In the North Loop neighborhood near Target Field, businesses like Smack Shack are also watching the developments with the Twins closely.
"The impact is huge. Pre-game, post-game," Smack Shack's beverage director Geoffrey Trelstad said. "It's really important to the whole business community down here."
Trelstad is dreaming of what a third straight AL Central title might look like -- with fans swarming the North Loop and Target Field deep into October.
"Let's go to the playoffs!" he said.