By Tim Dahlberg
Don’t be too eager to sit in the stands if your favorite team is lucky enough to open play over the next few months.
Going to the game will be risky all by itself. Once there, the experience won’t be the same.
No food. No drink. No cuddly mascot to slap high-fives with.
Don’t even think about cheering loudly for your team. And if you need to go to the bathroom, well, maybe you should have taken care of that before leaving home.
The future of sports is still very muddled as America’s top leagues take their first baby steps toward resuming play. Questions abound, and the biggest one is whether games can be safely played at all in the midst of a pandemic.
But those yearning for a trip to the old ballpark might be careful about what they ask for. Because buying a cardboard cutout to stick in their season ticket seat might be a better way to go.
The same country that led the way in bringing team sports back during the pandemic is about to embark on an even more ambitious experiment. The Korean Baseball Organization plans to allow some fans in ballparks in coming weeks to cheer their teams on to the playoffs.
Those who don’t like giving out personal information shouldn’t plan on attending. Tickets must be paid for with credit cards that can be traced to individual fans, and the KBO also is considering requiring ticket buyers to register with smartphone QR codes.
Big Brother not only wants to know where you sit but when you stand.
Fans will be scanned for fevers and at least every other seat will be left empty to help social distancing. That would ordinarily leave enough space to set a hot dog down, but there will be no food allowed in the stands.
No beer, either, because fans who drink tend to be more boisterous than those who don’t. Fans will be discouraged from cheering loudly, singing or even yelling insults at opposing players lest they spray someone nearby with droplets.
Of course, everyone must wear masks at all times. And if a fan is confirmed as a COVID-19 patient during a game, the KBO will immediately suspend play and shut down the stadium for sanitation and trace the person’s contacts.
So many rules, so many restrictions.
The restrictions are specific to South Korea and will surely take different forms for, say, a college football game in the U.S. this fall. But it’s safe to say the fan experience anywhere for the rest of the year at a minimum will be unlike anything we’ve been used to in the past.
Some of the best seats won’t even be available, no matter how much money you’re willing to pay. Any seat that might be close enough to breathe on players will be off-limits, as evidenced by the NFL’s decision to block off the first 6-8 rows near the field in every stadium when the league begins play.
It’s pretty much a given that temperatures will be taken upon entry and those whose spike will be sent home. Those lucky enough to make it inside almost surely will have to wear masks at all times or risk being ejected.
Not exactly the communal experience that helps make a trip to the ballpark so special. Really, not much fun at all, especially when that fan in the row in front of you starts coughing so badly he has to take off his mask.
For that, the Oakland A’s have an answer of sorts: They’ll sell you a seat at the Coliseum, where your picture on a fan cutout will be placed.
The best thing? If a foul ball hits your cutout, they send the ball to you.
Imagine being able to stay home in front of your TV, watching your favorite team while running your fingers over a baseball actually used in a major league game.
As long as you decontaminate it and put it in isolation for a week first.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.