Tigers expect capacity limits to be raised for Opening Day; GOP calls on Whitmer to ease cap
Detroit — Hours after GOP lawmakers argued for the state to ease crowd restrictions inside Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers vowed to detail a plan in the coming days to admit more than the current 1,000-fan limit for Opening Day and beyond.
The Tigers on Monday afternoon touted a "comprehensive plan" arranged over several months in coordination with Major League Baseball, state health officials, medical experts and government leaders that will "allow fans to confidently and safely return to the ballpark for the 2021 Detroit Tigers regular season."
"We appreciate the passion, patience, and resilience of Tigers fans and expect to soon announce more details on increased ticket availability," the Tigers' statement reads.
The announcement comes after Republican lawmakers gathered earlier Monday in front of the downtown Detroit ballpark to urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to ease the COVID-19 restrictions they argue have kept residents "clamped down."
The Tigers' statement also comes as some stadium concession employees, contracted by Delaware North, were recently told they might be needed for Opening Day, after all. They were originally told they wouldn't be needed until the second homestand, which starts April 20, a day after the current state order expires.
Under current state orders, Comerica Park is able to admit 1,000 fans on Opening Day when the Tigers take on the Cleveland Indians on April 1. The health order was issued by Whitmer's health department director early this month.
"Every single minute in this state, people are hurting. They are hurting because they don't have an income because our governor has chosen to keep us clamped down in ways that no other state in this nation is seeing," said state Rep. T.C. Clements, R-Temperance. "Trust us governor. Trust us to be responsible and like the other states in this nation. Please allow the economic train that was moving before March 13, 2020, to get back on track."
Clements, alongside fellow Republican lawmakers Rep. Matt Maddock of Milford and Rep. Pam Hornberger of Chesterfield Township, held up the stadium as a high-profile example of the "onerous" policies they contend have hurt Michigan businesses and families.
"We need to start celebrating life," said Maddock, who argued Monday that the state's order should be changed to raise the stadium's Opening Day capacity to at least 50%. "Gov. Whitmer, for God's sake, just let us have fun for once."
The Tigers' plan to admit more fans comes as other MLB ballparks intend to loosen capacity restrictions when the season begins. The Texas Rangers, for example, plan to be at full capacity. The Rangers will use a system where certain sections will allow for "distanced seating," according to the team's website.
Among nearby states, Ohio is allowing the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians to have up to 30% capacity, while Pennsylvania is allowing the Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates up to 20% capacity. Wisconsin and Minnesota are allowing the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins to have 25% capacity.
The Tigers have been allowing up to 2,000 fans for home spring-training games in Lakeland, Florida; those games have all sold out.
Whitmer's administration issued its newest round of epidemic orders on March 2, loosening COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses, nursing homes and other gatherings, a move the governor described as "good news" for Michigan. The orders allowed for up to 1,000 fans for the Tigers, who play outdoors, and up to 750 fans for the Detroit Pistons and Red Wings, who play indoors at Little Caesars Arena.
The new policies came amid a decline in weekly coronavirus cases and deaths. But right after, the state saw its first weekly increase in cases since early January.
The latest regulations run through April 19 and permit larger outdoor events to resume, double capacity limits at restaurants and extend the curfew for indoor dining.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it's been in "close discussions with the Ilitchs and the team at Comerica Park "to find a safe path forward to expand capacity limits at the stadium, Whitmer spokesman Robert Leddy said in a Monday statement to The Detroit News.
"Given our success during the Pause to Save Lives and expansion of vaccine eligibility, we feel confident that our state is making tremendous strides to get back to normal as quickly as possible," Leddy wrote. "There’s nothing more exciting than fans rooting for the Tigers at a home game, and we look forward to making that happen very soon.”
Leddy could not provide specifics on when changes to the current restrictions might take place.
Ted Goodman, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, contended that Whitmer "has not been interested in working with our strong Republicans in Lansing on policies that make sense."
"This has to be a joke," Michigan Democratic Party chairperson Lavora Barnes said in a statement. "The MIGOP is more concerned about how many people can watch the Tigers play in person on opening day, than they are about the continued impact that COVID-19 is having on our lives, and the lives of our families and loved ones."
"The Michigan Republicans have somehow found the time to create problems, but can't seem to find the time or political will to allocate in the full relief dollars we received from the federal government."
The Tigers have sold well more than 1,000 Opening Day tickets between season-ticket holders and the general public, so if the current cap remains, they'll have decisions to make on who gets to use the tickets and who doesn't. Priority is expected to be given to season-ticket holders.
One thousand fans are less than 3% of Comerica Park's official capacity. The Tigers played a shortened, 58-game season in 2020 with no fans allowed at Comerica Park
Kyle Dufrane, 49, of Rochester, a Michigan football season-ticket holder, said he's eager to get back to watching live sports, but not under such strict capacity limits.
"I treat Opening Day as a national holiday, but it never even entered my mind to consider getting tickets this year," he said.
"I want to get back, but I want to get back on real terms."
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, has said the state continues to closely monitor data and encourage Michigan residents to wear masks, wash their hands and avoid crowds.
As of Saturday, Michigan had recorded more than 605,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 15,700 deaths.
"No one is playing down the seriousness of the pandemic and the pain and hurt that it's brought to so many families," Goodman said. "What we'd like to see is the governor following science and not political science."