After two seasons in which the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged its industry and separated its games from its most passionate fans, Major League Baseball is finally nearing the point where the rhythm of the season and its ability to welcome fans intersect.

As the weather warms up, vaccination rates soar and positive case loads are flattening in most regions. As schools get ready to spring its students and staff for the summer, state governments and municipalities are loosening restrictions, many giving the green light for teams to soon host games at full capacity.

For now, it is a matter of baby steps.

“Coming off of fake crowd noise and that soulless environment that we had in 2020, it’s a breath of fresh air,” Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter tells USA TODAY Sports. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand from the fan base – probably the hard-core fan that couldn’t wait to get back to the ballpark. People are excited to have a night out, to be with their loved ones, to have a cold beer and cheer on the hometown team.

“At the same time, we recognize there’s a subset of fans who aren’t ready to come back.”

Even before the 2020 pandemic shuttered the industry, MLB attendance had fallen three consecutive years. With many teams giving season-ticketholders the choice to opt in or out of partial-attendance games, and the untold economic impact of the pandemic on pocketbooks, several markets have fallen well short of even their modest, reduced capacities.

Strangely, adapting to the pandemic may have forced teams to unwittingly improve the aesthetics of a night at the ballpark.

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