Surprise college baseball tournament provides sneak preview of spring training protocols

Fans are spread out and assigned “Seating Pods” at the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

For the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic at Surprise Stadium, fans sat in pods of two, four and six. The stadium plans to use this model of seating for spring training. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

To ensure social distancing, seats that are not available are zip-tied, prohibiting fans from sitting in them. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

“Seating Pods” at Surprise Stadium are indicated by blue tape on the back of the seats. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

SURPRISE – Baseball fans enjoyed a glimpse into the near future last weekend when they attended the Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic at Surprise Stadium, spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a ballpark that usually has a capacity of 10,500 was topped off at 2,200 for each game, about 21 percent of capacity. In total, over 7,000 fans attended during the course of eight games, averaging out to just over 920 fans per game, or about 8.7 percent of normal capacity.

The stadium hosted New Mexico, Oregon State, Kansas State and Gonzaga for each team’s opening series, with two games each day from Friday-Monday.

The gameday experience in Surprise was very similar to those seen across the country where fans are allowed. Fans bought tickets in pods of two, four or six, and the pods were socially distanced from other pods around the stadium.

At Surprise Stadium, the seats where tickets were sold had blue tape marked on top of the seat, while other seats were zip-tied shut to prevent clustering among fans.

(Video by Zachary Larsen/Cronkite Sports)

The fan experience buying tickets was simple, with multiple fans saying they bought their tickets online just like they would for any other game.

In terms of concessions, there was a limited number of vendors open, but a variety of options for payment and pickup, including cashless transactions and mobile ordering.

Fans could even pick up their order when it was ready to avoid crowding in the concourses, according to Kendra Pettis, Director of Sports and Tourism for the City of Surprise.

And, of course, there was a mask mandate for everyone in the stadium.

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Even with the precautions and restrictions, fans were excited to get back into a ballpark to watch a game in-person.

“It’s really, really nice to get back into a stadium,” said Julie Stratman of Salina, Kansas.

Many who attended this weekend’s event said they were comfortable attending the games. Jeri Seymour of Goodyear “absolutely” felt safe in the stadium, and mentioned that she and her husband may come out to more games this spring.

Others in attendance felt the same way as Seymour.

“Everything was handled very well, I didn’t have any issues and I felt very safe and accommodated,” said Jose Marenco of Seattle. “I felt totally safe and comfortable with the spacing.”

Spring training kicks off on Sunday with seven games in Arizona. Despite the pandemic, tickets are going fast as teams focus on safety protocols.

Dylan Wilhelm DIL-lun WIL-helm (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dylan Wilhelm expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Wilhelm, who has worked for The State Press, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Alina Nelson uh-LEE-nuh nEHl-suhn
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alina Nelson is a sports journalist and photographer who expects to graduate in August 2021. Nelson, who has seven years of photography experience, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.