Braves’ spring training changes include attendance limit of 1,800

CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla., will host Braves spring training for the second year.
Caption
CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla., will host Braves spring training for the second year.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Normally the most relaxed part of baseball’s year, spring training will be quite different this time.

The Braves will open camp Thursday in North Port, Fla., with an array of new restrictions and protocols in place to deal with the continuing coronavirus pandemic. The changes will affect fans, players and even the games themselves.

Here’s a look at some of the many ways this spring training will be different:

Limited fans at games

The Braves plan to limit attendance to about 1,800 fans at each of their 14 home exhibition games, a team spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That’s 22.5% of CoolToday Park’s full capacity of 8,000 and will allow for at least six feet of distance between pods of occupied seats.

Explore2021 Braves spring schedule

Here’s the further complication, according to the team: The Braves have more than 2,000 spring-training season-ticket holders, meaning not all of them can be accommodated at every game. Few tickets will be available on a single-game basis to the general public; those that are available might come from players’ unused ticket allotments on the day of a game, the spokeswoman said.

The Braves drew an average of 6,373 fans at the 11 games at CoolToday Park last year before the Grapefruit League season was shut down because of the pandemic. This year’s exhibition schedule opens for the Braves on Feb. 28, with their first home game March 2.

No fans at workouts

Last year, the Braves’ first spring training in North Port, fans could enter the stadium complex to watch team workouts in the 10 days before exhibition games began. But this year the stadium and its back fields will be closed to the public during workouts, the Braves said.

Here’s one way fans might be able to sneak a peek of the action: The Tomahawk Tiki Bar & Grill, open year-round above left field at CoolToday Park, will maintain its regular hours (11 a.m. until 8 p.m.) on the days of Braves workouts. Diners have a view of the stadium field — but not of the back fields, where much of the work occurs early in camp — and will be confined to the restaurant area.

Caption
Braves fans work the fence line while outfielder Ronald Acuna pauses to sign some autographs leaving the batting cages during the first workout of spring training Feb. 16, 2019, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Braves fans work the fence line while outfielder Ronald Acuna pauses to sign some autographs leaving the batting cages during the first workout of spring training Feb. 16, 2019, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Caption
Braves fans work the fence line while outfielder Ronald Acuna pauses to sign some autographs leaving the batting cages during the first workout of spring training Feb. 16, 2019, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Restrictions on players, staff

Health and safety protocols, negotiated by MLB and the players’ union, will touch most aspects of spring training.

Workouts will be divided into smaller groups than usual, especially early in camp. Players and staff will wear electronic contact-tracing devices while in club facilities or during club travel. COVID-19 tests will be administered at least every other day.

Players, coaches and other team staffers will be required to quarantine with their spring-training household throughout camp except for team activities and other prescribed activities (such as grocery shopping, takeout food pickup and individual outdoor physical activity, including walks.) Indoor gatherings of 10 or more people will be prohibited. Golf may be permitted if COVID-19 safety guidelines are followed. Indoor restaurants and bars will be off-limits. Meals at outdoor restaurants may be permitted.

Players won’t be able to sign autographs; fans at exhibition games can view batting practice from their ticketed seats only and won’t be permitted to approach the field or dugouts. Players’ (and manager Brian Snitker’s) media interviews will be conducted by Zoom video conference.

Fewer opponents

Grapefruit League schedules were redone and regionalized to limit travel around Florida. The Braves’ 29 exhibition games will be played against just five opponents that train within 10 to 50 miles of North Port: the Tampa Bay Rays (Port Charlotte), Boston Red Sox (Fort Myers), Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers), Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota) and Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton).

The Braves will play almost one-third of their Grapefruit League games – nine – against the Red Sox. They’ll play seven games each against the Rays and Twins. Dropped from the Braves’ original exhibition schedule were games against the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers.

Shorter games?

Because teams will have fewer players at spring training than usual — most lower-level minor leaguers won’t arrive until the big-league team breaks camp — exhibition games can be shortened to five or seven innings through March 13 and to seven innings after March 13 if both managers agree.

Also, half-innings can end without three outs being recorded. For games through March 13, the defensive team’s manager can end a half-inning before the third out provided his pitcher has thrown 20 or more pitches. The idea is to allow managers to map out pitching plans and minimize the number of pitchers in bullpens.

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