DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Tuesday night for the first time in a year and a half, a full house will cheer on the Dayton Dragons at Day Air Ballpark. Capacity had been at 30% to start the season, but Dragons executives say Tuesday night is when this season finally feels like normal.
Dayton Dragons Executive Vice President Eric Deutsch says, “Usually you play in front of a full house and it gets them as close and prepared to be a major league player when the game is on the line or they’re on the mound or they’re in the batter’s box and you have several thousand people in a sold-out crowd watching you perform.”
Deutsch says players throughout minor league baseball love to play in Dayton, either for or against the Dragons. That atmosphere finally returns to Dayton Tuesday night when the stands are once again expected to be packed. Deutsch says, “We’re going to keep a lot of the health and safety and digital things in place just for that comfort level. Less touching, and cleanliness, the germ-stop application in the ballpark, the sanitation stations and the touchless restrooms.”
Deutsch says a lot of the hard work was done ahead of the 30% capacity limits to start the season. Now opening up to full capacity is a little easier. Deutsch says, “When we found out the June 2 COVID orders were going down, then people got really happy about getting more people out to the ballpark, putting together group outings we weren’t able to put together, as well as getting season ticket holders back to their normal seats to sit with friends and family and other people they might have enjoyed going to games with.”
Small tweaks will improve the fan experience. The Dragons mascots and Green Team will return, and in-game entertainment should feel more like it did before the pandemic. And Deutsch says the fans are ready. “The good thing from the first games in may were that we did have 20 years under our belt, and things went pretty well. We’re pleased people were well-behaved, they had fun, weather was cooperative, and I think people enjoyed coming out to the ballpark.”
Nearby businesses are champing at the bit for 7,000 fans to return to the stadium district for the rest of the season. Businesses in Dayton’s Stadium District are anticipating a big boost when the Dayton Dragons return to full crowds.
Colin Barnhart is the Product and Sales Manager at Lock 27 Brewing. He says, “We’re seeing everybody start to come back to the games, even when it was limited capacity. Now everybody who hasn’t had a chance to get involved can come back downtown.”
Chris Bhai is the General Manager at Brixx Ice Company. He says, “We’ve been planning and talking about this for almost two years now. We knew we’re going to get back to capacity at some point.”
Bhai says consumer confidence is notably up just as Day Air Ballpark returns to full capacity. The outdoor patio at Brixx can seat 144, but they’ll start with 100. Bhai says, “The plan is to make sure everybody is still safe, that we’re respectful of people that do want a little more distance than other people. We’re going to get everything together and make sure we’re still following the same protocols of cleaning and keeping on top of things we’ve always had.”
But staffing issues are still a challenge. Lock 27 Brewing is working to train staff and have them ready for larger crowds while still hiring for front- and back-of-house positions. The bar is rolling out several new features timed to coincide with full stadium capacity.
Barnhart says, “We’re actually making a lot of improvements with our patio. We’re getting ready to have the lights put in, the bar is about to go out. And everybody is all hands-on deck trying to get ready for the crowds to show up this summer.”
Customer response at several locations has been great so far. Bhai says, “The excitement that’s on this block during baseball is just palpable. It’s great. We cannot be thankful enough we’re coming out of this and we’re back to doing baseball.”