116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Full capacity. Those are two words the Cedar Rapids Kernels thought they’d probably never hear again. At least this soon.
The High-A Central League franchise is allowing anyone and everyone into Veterans Memorial Stadium beginning this upcoming six-game series against the South Bend Cubs. That’s up to the stadium’s capacity, which is about 5,300 fans.
Up to now, the Kernels have been working under a socially distanced cap of around 2,100 fans at the ballpark. The mask requirement of the beginning of the season went away last homestand, at least for those fully vaccinated for COVID-19, though, obviously, there’s no way to actually check that.
Now there’s this, another step toward “normalcy.”
“Gosh, we’ve been cooped up for so long, it’s like you have to feel what that feels like to actually step out and be amongst (others), where other people are going to feel like they’re in your bubble,” Kernels General Manager Scott Wilson said. “We haven’t had that in a long time. So I think there will be a little transition period coming on that. But we’ve definitely been excited, as well as the fans. They’ve been nothing but complimentary when they’ve been out here about things, about being back here. Just really getting through it all. Everything we got repaired after the derecho, we have gotten nice comments on those.
“It has just been fun to see folks again and have them out here.”
The change in the number of fans allowed per game is a joint decision. Major League Baseball, which now runs the minor leagues, said OK, then the Kernels ran it past the city and Linn County Public Health, which gave their blessing.
The club’s board of directors voted on lifting the limits on stadium capacity. The Kernels play at home Tuesday through Sunday.
On the High-A Central League’s mandated off day Monday, the Kernels are conducting a drive-through vaccination clinic at the stadium from 2 to 5 p.m. No appointments are necessary, with a second dose of the Moderna vaccine being available July 12.
The Kernels are averaging 1,088 fans per game in 16 dates. That included three “sellouts,” with Wilson saying it was very difficult to turn fans away waiting in line for tickets that turned out not to be available.
That won’t be a problem now.
“I think attendance was something that we knew there were folks out there who wanted to see baseball after having a year off. Have some sort of entertainment piece. That definitely has shown up,” he said. “When we had great weather, I think all three of the sellouts were on Saturdays for that. Those were fireworks nights … It’s just things that I think folks are missing.
“I think when we move to a larger attendance, when we open up here this next week, that we’ll see a progression (in attendance). It’s not going to be immediate. I’m not saying we’re going to sell out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, those kinds of scenarios. I think the thing is everyone is transitioning at their own pace, and that’s to be expected.”
MLB is allowing minor-league clubs to conduct on-field promotions again, as long as they are socially distanced from players. Barriers and roped-off seats near the field where fans were not allowed to sit also have been removed, per MLB edict.
Teams are allowed to travel to road games via two buses now instead of three. Wilson said the Kernels are among teams that are at least 85-percent vaccinated, which eases some other restrictions, though fan interaction, at least on field, still is a no go.
He said he hopes MLB eventually will allow vaccinated batboys in the clubhouse and dugout. Players and/or coaches are providing those duties now.
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