| Detroit Free Press
AJ Hinch shares next step for Detroit Tigers: ‘We’ve got to push them’
Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch talks Tuesday, March 9, 2021, about his team after a day off from spring training.
Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers are prepared to host 1,000 fans for Opening Day on April 1 at Comerica Park. Owner Christopher Ilitch is “very confident” his franchise will execute the necessary COVID-19 protocols to return fans to the stands.
“As it relates to attendance capacity, that’s going to be guided by government officials and by the health experts,” Ilitch said Tuesday, standing on the concourse of Joker Marchant Stadium. “I’m very confident our team is going to be able to execute the protocols and procedures to safely welcome fans back to Comerica Park for Opening Day. Very excited about that.”
Ilitch, 55, said he hopes there will be more than 1,000 fans per game at some point during the 2021 season. The Tigers are scheduled to play a typical 162-game schedule after last year’s campaign was chopped down to 60 games.
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Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced indoor stadiums and arena could have 750 people inside if the regular seating capacity is over 10,000. This applies to Little Caesars Arena for the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons. Yet outdoor entertainment venues — such as Comerica Park — can host up to 1,000 people.
The Tigers confirmed to the Free Press that the team is gearing up for 1,000 fans to start the season.
Comerica Park can seat 41,083 fans, meaning the 1,000-person limit set in place by Whitmer is less than 3% of the stadium’s maximum capacity. For spring training games in Lakeland, the Tigers are allowing 2,000 fans per game — about 20% of the 9,777-maximum capacity at Joker Marchant Stadium.
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“We’re implementing wonderful procedures and protocols that are going to keep everybody safe as we introduce and bring fans back into Comerica Park,” Ilitch said. “It’s a sign of the times. It’s what we need to manage today. But I’m very confident in the ability to manage this successfully.”
The current capacity plan for Comerica Park is much less than what other AL Central teams plan: The Chicago White Sox plan for 20% capacity, approximately 8,000 fans; the Cleveland Indians plan 30% capacity or 10,000 fans; the Kansas City Royals 30% capacity, 11,000 fans and the Minnesota Twins 25% capacity, 10,000 fans.
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To go beyond 1,000 fans, Ilitch said the Tigers are relying on their “good working relationship and dialogue” with Whitmer and other state and local government officials. They have showcased “very clearly all of our capability” and “shared industry information and data” about how to keep a surplus of people safe in an outdoor stadium.
“At the same time, we’ve heard from government officials what their key interests are in terms of keeping people safe, which is exactly where they should be focused,” Ilitch said, “and making sure that we’re developing protocols, processes and confidence so they can, hopefully, allow more and more fans to attend games at Comerica Park as the season goes on.
“If the trends continue along the positive lines that we’ve seen around COVID, not only in Michigan and Detroit but throughout the country, I’m hopeful (fans) will continue (to increase).”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.