WRIGLEYVILLE — Wrigley Field might look a little different this week when fans return to the ballpark for the first time in more than a year.
For starters, it will be less crowded. Only 20 percent of fans — mostly season ticket holders — are being allowed inside as the city reopens for more outdoor activities but maintains social distancing and other precautions.
But Wrigley is introducing other new procedures, as well, including requiring masks, going cashless and installing self-service ticket scanners, aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
“We are going above and beyond this year as usual in all of our four pillars: safe, informed, clean and vibrant,” Heather Way Kitzes, a representative for the Cubs, said at a community meeting Thursday.
Fans must keep masks on while in the park except when they’re seated or eating.
Fans will be allowed into the stadium 90 minutes before all games this season — first pitch on Opening Day, which is Thursday, is at 1:20 p.m. — rather than the usual two hours to reduce crowding before the games, according to David Cromwell, senior vice president of operations for the Cubs.
Each fan will be assigned to one of six gates, which is where they’ll enter and exit, Cromwell said.
“We took a very end-to-end view of the guest experience and evaluated all points of fan movement, congregation and gathering throughout the ballpark so we could work to mitigate or eliminate those risks,” Cromwell said.
There will be no temperature-checks as fans enter the stadium, Cromwell said, but guests will be asked to self-assess they do not have coronavirus, aren’t showing any symptoms and feel healthy when buying tickets to games.
Tickets are completely digital this year, and fans entering the stadium will be able to check in using self-service ticket portals placed near the gates, Cromwell said.
They’ll then move into the screening area, which has new metal detectors that don’t require people to take personal items like phones, wallets, keys or small bags, which are now limited to 9-by-5 inches or smaller, Cromwell said.
“Everything is designed with health and safety top of mind by having more limited contact or a completely touchless experience,” Cromwell said. “But the focus is also on getting people into the ballpark and to their seats faster.”
Fans will be seated in small pods of one to four people, which will be spaced throughout the ballpark to ensure social distancing, Cromwell said. Each pod will be assigned to a specific zone inside the ballpark, which is where they’ll access concessions, restrooms and other features.
Guests can also limit contact with other people at the concessions stands by placing their orders from their seats through the MLB Ballpark app, which can be downloaded from the Cubs’ website. Cromwell said fans can select a nearby concessions stand, view its menu, order and pay from their seats before visiting the stand for pickup.
“We’re placing a heavy emphasis as all of our colleagues across the league have done on masking and physical distancing,” Cromwell said. “We’re really excited about the enhancements we’ve made, and think it will ultimately provide a better guest experience that’s a safe and friendly one as well,” Cromwell said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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