Yogi Berra, the old Yankees catcher known for his malaprops, once said, “If the fans don’t want to come out to the ballpark, no one can stop them.”

In 2020, if the fans wanted to come to the ballpark, everyone would stop them. In 2021 — for the first time in 18 months — no one could stop Braves fans from flocking to Truist Park and celebrating the return of baseball.

On Friday afternoon, fans filled The Battery Atlanta several hours before first pitch, drinking, eating and soaking in the atmosphere. 14,342 of them made their way into the ballpark to watch the Braves take on the Phillies in their home opener. Masks were required but few fans wore them once they were seated.

The Braves allowed 33% capacity for the current homestand, which runs from Friday through Thursday. The second homestand from April 23-29 will have a maximum of 50% seats filled. Every major league team is welcoming fans into the stands this year, but capacities vary widely. The Red Sox operate at 12% capacity, while the Rangers opened their season at 100%.

The return of the baseball fan marked another important milestone as the world slowly emerges from its COVID-19 standstill. It also represented the first time Braves fans could collectively mourn the passing of Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton. The three Hall of Famers died within less than a month of each other this offseason.

For that reason, Friday’s game was bittersweet for Cheryl Everhart, a lifelong Braves fan and season-ticket holder since the mid-1990s. Upon arriving in section 329, she couldn’t help but think of Aaron, Niekro and Sutton, whom she said she had all met.

Some things remain the same, though. As soon as one Braves employee saw Everhart, he gave his friend a huge hug.

“I missed you so much,” the employee told Everhart, a 67-year-old resident of Rex.

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In The Battery, young people gathered and ate at restaurants such as Sports & Social, which showed the Masters golf tournament on its row of TVs. A Coors beer vendor sat at his station with a mask pulled down to his chin. The “Heavy Hitters” drumline serenaded the fans with upbeat music.

Emmanuel Rutledge, 40, wore a standout jersey as he sat by the lawn in front of the Omni Hotel. The Braves fan from Gwinnett couldn’t find his long-sleeve Braves shirt, so he opted instead for a Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. jersey from Rutledge’s high school years.

“I was like, ‘Well, what other person could I represent in baseball that (might not) represent the Braves but the culture of baseball?’” said Rutledge, who played the sport for the University of West Georgia.

Rutledge didn’t have tickets to the Braves-Phillies game, but wanted to experience the atmosphere with his wife for their anniversary.

David Bostater, meanwhile, will have tickets to every game this season as a first-time season ticket holder. The young professional brought his dad to the home opener, but intends to bring friends in the future.

Mitch Kersey bought tickets off of StubHub. A resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, Kersey drove with his wife and two young sons to Friday’s game. He waited in line to buy them Braves gear and two $10 packs of 2021 Topps baseball cards.

They weren’t the only young fans excited for the Braves’ first home game.

“I think it’s going to be really cool to see fans back,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before the game. “I know my grandkids woke up today and said this is more exciting than Christmas. They can’t wait to get out here. They were in their uniforms at 8 this morning ready to go.”

Some fans at Truist Park hated MLB’s decision to move the All-Star game from Atlanta because of Georgia’s new voting law. Others admired it. But they all gathered together Friday, cheering the Braves and booing the Phillies.

“I love being here,” Everhart said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Staff writer Gabriel Burns contributed to this article.