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Opening day in STL shaping up to be smaller party than usual

Opening day in STL shaping up to be smaller party than usual

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ST. LOUIS — The home opener of Cardinals baseball season, St. Louis’ unofficial high holiday, has been a “shut down at work, show up at the game” affair for decades.

But this time, a pandemic beat the game to the shutting-down stage, and the lack of fans in the stands is expected to take much of the steam away from the showing-up part.

The Redbirds’ pandemically pared season (60 games, instead of 162) begins at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Busch Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates, sans fans.

Sadly, other rituals will be missing this year, as well.

Recent home openers featured Cardinals Hall of Famers being ushered into the ballpark on the backs of new pickups, right before folks would go crazy over a team of Clydesdales power-pulling a beer wagon around the warning track.

This year: no player parade, no auto show, no awesome horses.

And as to the status of festivities surrounding the stadium, the ball still is in the air.

“No one has a clue yet what this is going to be like this year,” said John Addison, manager of Paddy O’s, a baseball-crowd magnet of a bar next door to the stadium.

Downtown bars and restaurants will be open for the game, but it seems the overall virus-world strategy is one of not necessarily inviting Redbird faithful to come down to rally at the tavern.

“We expect a crowd, but we’re not doing anything special” to draw one, Addison said. The bar will be open from 11 a.m. until 3 a.m. and will follow city guidelines for crowd size and health procedures, he added.

“The last thing any (business) needs is a media backlash” for violating safety rules, Addison said.

Taking the less-regulated route is Killroy’s, a game-day hangout next door to Paddy O’s. It will be closed for the entire shortened season. The texted response to a question about opening day plans was: “we look forward to seeing you next season.”

Jim Panopolous, an owner of Missouri Bar & Grille downtown, said, “We’ll be open for business as usual, but we’re not really promoting anything.

“What good would there be in getting the place jam-packed and then get ticketed for it?

“So if we have too many people show up and have to handle it, that’s one thing. But I don’t need them showing some piece of paper, some advertisement, that says we were encouraging them.”

And without 50,000 or so fans in the stands, the need to head to a bar for a shuttle to the game is a moot trip. “No, no shuttle service,” Panapoulos said with a laugh.

Masks and distance

St. Louis has not eased up on its restrictions for large gatherings, which city officials said will be monitored for the weekend series.

The latest health department order limits the permitted capacity of a bar or restaurant to 75%. Also, businesses must comply with all mask and social-distancing rules.

Ballpark Village will be open for dining and drinking, with all the venues saying city health guidelines for masks and crowd size will be followed.

Several locations have expanded their patio and sidewalk space and have added outdoor televisions. A few radio stations will be broadcasting remotely from spots inside the village.

The Soulard neighborhood, normally a nexus for opening-day street parties and shuttle rides, seems to be playing the game in a lower key.

Cathy Weldon, head of the Soulard Business Association, said there is little planned in the way of any coordinated fun, though a number of bars will be open and showing the game on their patios.

“The bars will be doing whatever they decide to do, but we don’t have anything big planned,” Weldon said. “We talked about possibly having an outdoor screen at the farmers’ market,” but that didn’t pan out.

Same goes for Union Station, where a spokesperson said no specific opening day promotions are planned.

Along with radio station rallies, another fan favorite that has been canceled is the “Kegs & Eggs” party put on by the St. Louis Renaissance Festival. The group plans to pick up the gauntlet again in 2021.

Defending her streak

One person who plans to be downtown for the game, standing outside the stadium, is Jan Daniels.

Her chance to attend her 63rd consecutive home opener — which she calls “a holy day of obligation” — was dashed by the pandemic shutdown in April.

Daniels attended her first opener in 1958 (against the Cubs) with her late husband, Dan Daniels, who died two years ago.

“I still have my tickets for the opening game that got canceled this year,” Daniels said. “And I’m already checking on tickets for next year.”

“I’m planning to be downtown (Friday), at least when the game starts. Then I’ll probably go home and watch the rest of it on TV,” she said.

For those who do wish to gather outside near the stadium for the game, city officials noted that wearing a mask is required “by anyone 9 years old or older when inside public facilities, public transportation vessels and outside when social distancing is not possible.”

“Baseball fans really need to take these precautions seriously,” said Jacob Long, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, “These are all short-term sacrifices to protect the long-term health and safety of our community.”

That caution has spread to bars farther afield, which are also planning plan to play it safe.

Justin Boyd, spokesman for the Hot Shots locations in the St. Louis area, said the lack of fans in the stands could bode well for the bar business as the season progresses.

“I think people will want that feeling of camaraderie. if you can’t actually go to a game, you can go somewhere and enjoy it with other people,” Boyd said.

But the current plan for opening day does not include special enticements.

“All of our locations will be showing the game and having (in-house) deals, but there’ll be nothing special,” he said.

Boyd said the company’s prime directive isn’t focused on having wall-to-wall crowds.

“Right now, we’ll just follow whatever local rules are in place,” Boyd said. “What we really want to do right now is keep people healthy, and keep our businesses open.”

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