ST. LOUIS — Baseball is around the corner.
The St. Louis Cardinals held their annual Winter Warm-Up event over the weekend, a yearly reminder that spring training is on the horizon. The Cardinals staged the event, proceeds of which go toward the team’s community foundation Cardinals Care, virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s fan fest follows a 2020 season unlike any other. MLB completed a truncated season due to the pandemic, with teams playing to largely empty stadiums. In the Cardinals’ case, the 2020 season included a 17-day period without any games due to the team’s virus cases.
But 2021 is expected to look a bit more familiar, at least in terms of scheduling. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has told teams to expect to begin the season on time and play the normal 162 games this year, according to a report published Monday by USA Today.
The Cardinals are slated to play their first spring training game Feb. 27 and open the regular season on April 1 in a road matchup against the Cincinnati Reds.
Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said the local club has employed an agile mindset, given the fluidity of the pandemic, and is moving forward with plans for the 2021 season. The Business Journal this week caught up with DeWitt to discuss this year’s Winter Warm-Up and the season ahead. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What level of fan engagement are you expecting for the events this weekend? It’s a little hard to say because it’s going to be virtual. We’re hoping that a lot of people participate, at least for a little bit. We’ll have autographs that people can still buy and the 50/50 raffle. There’s two forms of content. One is live content that people can pay to get into the presentations. It’s usually $10 or $15 dollars. Those are very interesting topics. The one that is selling well is the 2011 World Series reunion team chat. Then there’s some free items that are just links that people can see recorded interviews from a bunch of different players and people in the front offices.
A question top of mind for many as the season inches closer is whether fans will be allowed inside Busch Stadium. What efforts are you making in that regard for the 2021 season? MLB is basically allowing teams to negotiate those issues with their state and local jurisdictions. In our case, we’ll be dealing with (city health director) Dr. Fredrick Echols and the city, primarily. There might be some state-related things we need to figure out. There’s a few things from MLB that will be overlays to anyone hosting fans at games. There are going to have a few additional regulations in terms of minimum requirements on certain things. I think most of the details of the plan to have fans in the ballpark will be through the discussion we have with the city.
Given the fluidity of the pandemic, is the process to bring back fans a fluid one as well? It’s fluid. I think it’s probably a good bet we’ll start with restrictions and protocols. And then we’re certainly hoping to be able to open it up to everyone as soon as possible. We’re sort of budgeting mid-season, but that could come earlier or come later. We’re certainly hoping and I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to be unrestricted at some point in the season. We have a couple things in our favor as it relates to having fans with restrictions. No. 1 is the Blues are leading the charge. They’re starting slowly with just friends, families and small groups. Once they get through the beginning part of their season — the next two months — I would think the city and the team will have gotten into a rhythm of what’s doable and so forth. The second thing I think we have going for us is we’re outdoors. That takes a little bit of the edge off of some of the restrictions and might make it a little easier for people who are making those calls for us.
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