After a weird year of empty stadiums and piped-in crowd sounds, the Astros will finally welcome fans back to Minute Maid Park for the team’s home opener on Thursday, April 8. Even though the government of Texas has recently rolled back nearly all of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation rules, including capacity limits and masking rules, the Astros organization released guidelines this week for fans attending games at Minute Maid Park.
To start, the organization has committed to keeping capacity at the Juice Box limited to 50 percent at least through April, with the option to re-evaluate the situation and update the guidelines at any time during the 2021 season. Fans will also be required to wear masks at all times unless actively eating or drinking. Eating and drinking will only be permitted at a person’s ticketed seat, not the general concourse. It is unclear how this masking rule will be enforced.
There will also be fewer concession spots. Steve Grande, senior manager of communications for the Astros, says that’s simply a result of reduced attendance. “If we’re able to increase our attendance later in the season, our concessions will scale up as well,” he said.
Fans can expect other changes when arriving at the stadium as well. Upon entering the gates, fans will be subjected to a verbal health screening. Bags will not be permitted in the stadium, with the exception of medical bags and diaper bags, in an effort to encourage distancing and quicker screening at the security gates. Plus, all of the vendors and concession stands in the park are going fully cashless. The stadium will now feature “reverse ATMs,” which will convert cash into an Astros themed debit card. Fans can put in any amount, up to $500, and get back a prepaid ATM debit card with no fee. If the total on the card is not used at the ballpark, it can be used outside the stadium at any location that accepts credit card payments.
All of the stadium’s entrances and restrooms will be open, and visitors are encouraged to maintain 6 feet of distance when moving throughout the park. Minute Maid’s roof policy will be the same — the roof will be open when the weather is nice, and closed when it is rainy or too hot. Some ticket sections at the stadium will be grouped into socially-distanced “seating pods”.
The Astros organization was quick to point out that the team is the last in Houston to welcome fans back to its stadium, stating that the Rockets, Texans and Dynamo all have hosted fans in the last 12 months. The last Astros game open to fans at Minute Maid Park took place on Wednesday, October 30 of 2019 — the final game of that year’s World Series, during which the Astros lost to the Washington Nationals.
The Astros will play the Oakland Athletics on April 8. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.