MILWAUKEE — American Family Field won’t be empty on Opening Day.
The City of Milwaukee approved a request from the Milwaukee Brewers to allow fans into home games this season starting with the April 1 season opener against the Minnesota Twins.
The Brewers submitted a 350-page plan to the city last month requesting permission to allow up to 35% capacity at the 41,900-seat stadium. The city instead approved 25% capacity, with fans being seated in pods spread out around the facility to ensure social distancing.
“We did a tour (of the ballpark) with (city of Milwaukee officials) in which they had quite a number of representatives here and asked some great questions,” Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger said Thursday. “They gave us some great feedback. ... If the metrics in the city and surrounding region continue to be good .. they are open and interested in trying to increase that capacity number.”
The Brewers’ plan also included a request to allow tailgating, but that portion of the application was denied, at least to start the season.
“It’s difficult to enforce how people participate in tailgating,” Schlesinger said. “A small group of four people with a grill on the back of their truck is not a problem, but four can become 40 and 40 can become 80. What we’re trying to avoid is close contact with folks in an environment we can’t really control.”
That restriction could be lifted, as well as the 25% cap on attendance, if the rate of infection continues to drop, the rate of vaccination increases and the restrictions and regulations currently in place are observed.
“If we follow the rules and put ourselves in a good situation, I think that’s an opportunity for us to go to the Health Department and say that our fans can follow the rules and we’d like to see an increase in our capacity,” Schlesinger said.
Unlike the NBA and NHL, which used controlled bubble settings to complete their seasons in 2020, Major League Baseball allowed teams to play games in their home stadiums, though fans were not permitted to attend games until the NL Championship Series and World Series, which were held in Arlington, Texas.
Teams used piped-in noise to help create a more normal atmosphere, but the absence of actual fans and the energy those fans create was hard to ignore and made a challenging season all the more difficult.
“We were all taught a lesson last year,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s community. That’s what’s special about it and we missed it. We’re getting a piece of it back. We’re not getting the whole thing back, but we’re getting a piece of that community back. That’s really special. It creates these magical moments which are the reasons why we love sports.”
The last time the Brewers played a home game in front of fans was Sept. 22, 2019, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-3. They’ve gotten a taste of normalcy this spring, playing in front of a limited number of fans during Cactus League games, including at their own American Family Fields of Phoenix, where they’ve been allowed to admit up to 23% capacity of the 10,000-seat facility.
Those attending games in Phoenix are required to wear masks at all times unless actively eating or drinking and are prohibited from bringing in large bags or backpacks, with the exception of medical supplies or diaper bags.
Similar rules will be in place in Milwaukee, along with restrictions on food and beverage carry-ins. The team also will utilize digital ticketing and expand its contactless concession capabilities.
“We’re doing every thing we can to be contactless because it’s efficient and safe,” Schlesinger said.
Demand for spring training tickets was high and 13 of the 14 home dates on Milwaukee’s spring schedule have already sold out.
Schlesinger is expecting similar demand for tickets to games in Milwaukee, with information on how to obtain those tickets becoming available to season ticket and suite holders starting next week and individual ticket sales information to follow.
“The process is starting now,” Schlesinger said, adding that the team expects to have single-game tickets available for a “vast majority” of games after Opening Day.
Here’s everything you need to know as the Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate.
The Brewers brought Travis Shaw back on a minor-league contract, hoping he can return to the form in 2017-18, when he hit 63 home runs with 187 RBI. While Luis Urias (above) and former top-prospect Daniel Robertson are likely to get a shot at winning the job, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 20 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Travis Shaw*, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* — Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields will be open and the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.