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‘Back to Doing What We Love’: The Syracuse Mets return to the field after a one-year pause due to COVID-19

Syracuse Mets Stadium
Photo by Danny Tripodi, Syracuse Mets

Baseball is returning to NBT Bank Stadium.

The Syracuse Mets, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, will open the 2021 season on May 4.

Family Times recently talked to Jason Smorol, the team’s general manager, about league changes, recent renovations to the stadium, and what fans can expect when attending a game this season.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1. How does it feel to have baseball back after the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19?
Getting baseball back is amazing. We have been on pause for over a year, and being able to get back to doing what we love to do and getting back to seeing our fans just feels really good.

What has been the reaction from the fans?
The fans and the staff are ecstatic. We’ve been in communication with a lot of our fans for this whole pandemic. We’ve been calling our season ticket holders and talking to flex plan holders and doing a lot of social media things. Now that it’s real, and they’re getting tickets in their hands and they’re making their plans to come to games, they all seem to be very excited about getting back to watching baseball.

2. Have there been any changes to the season itself?

There are a lot of changes. Major League Baseball postponed the season by a month, so we’re all going to play 60 games now instead of 70, starting May 4. We’re only playing in our division to reduce travel, so we’re playing what used to be called the International League North – it’s now Triple A Northeast. We’re going to play Scranton, Rochester, Buffalo, Lehigh Valley and Worcester.

 3. What can fans expect if they come to a game? Are there any new restrictions or requirements?
It’s a constantly changing landscape. Right now, as of April 15, we are operating under the guidelines set forth by New York state for stadiums and arenas over 10,000 capacity, which is just us and the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University. It is 20% capacity. So, for us, that’s 2,163 seats. Fans must show proof of full vaccination, so 14 days after whatever form you got, or negative COVID testing. That can be in the form of a negative PCR test, which allows you 72 hours of the event, so you can get a couple of games in, or a negative rapid antigen test, which you have to get six hours before the event. And then the rest of the stuff that everyone’s used to: social distancing, wearing masks, very similar to what’s happening in restaurants and taverns. So, you have to have your mask on, you can walk up to the concession stand, order your hot dog and a soda or a beer, go back to your seat, and you can take your mask off if you’re actively eating or drinking. All other times, you must have your mask on. We will also social distance; we will create space in the restrooms, we will limit the amount of people that can go in the team store at a time. A lot of the areas have reduced capacity because of social distancing. There will be a lot of plexiglass and additional cleaning that’s going on. We’ll be doing temperature checks and health screenings, where you have to answer questions when you come in. Other than that, it’s going to be a normal ballpark experience.

Please note: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new guidelines on May 5. Click here to learn more.

4. The stadium recently underwent some renovations. Can you tell me a little more about that?

That’s been a two-year project, $25 million of renovations. The whole stadium has been overhauled. It is absolutely a marvel. This was in partnership and coordination with the state of New York, Onondaga County, and the Mets. It was done in two phases. The first was done in time for the 2020 season, fans were going to see construction going on during 2020, then everything was going to be completed for the 2021 season. That’s where we’re at. What has been done with that $25 million is a new playing surface, all new paint, all new graphics, all new field lights. Every seat was taken out and replaced. There are new seating areas. There’s a new lawn bar built over in left field. The deck and the Hank Sauer Room were demolished and then rebuilt bigger and better. All the suites were renovated. The front entrances were all changed up; added new gates, added a whole new entry down the right field line. And then a lot of infrastructure of the building with heat pumps, boilers, piping, insulation, just to make sure the building is ready for another 25 years.

5. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think the most important thing is to go to the website, syracusemets.com, and follow us on social media, that way you’re able to find out the promotions and if any rules change. We have a lot of good videos and stuff to keep us going, and to keep the fans informed. We’re really just looking forward to getting open and doing what we do, which is putting on a great show and entertaining our fans and watching the greatest game on earth, baseball.

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