May 3—Baseball in Reading will look a lot different this season than in the past, due in part to changes brought about by Major League Baseball's takeover of Minor League Baseball, in part because of COVID-19. Here are some things you might notice as you make your way to FirstEnergy Stadium for the start of the season:
Attendance limits: The Fightin Phils are capping attendance at about 2,200 per game for now — less than one-fourth of capacity. Pennsylvania is allowing 50% capacity at outdoor venues but Major League Baseball guidelines require proper social distancing. The Fightins will sell tickets in pods so that fans can be properly spread apart.
All fans in attendance will be required to wear a mask at all times, except while drinking or eating.
No autographs: MLB is instructing players not to have physical contact with fans and not to throw balls into the stands at the end of an inning. That won't go over well in Reading, where fans delight in waiting for players before and after games for their autographs.
The players aren't excited about the rule, either.
"I'm sure we'll sneak a few in," one Reading pitcher joked about autographs.
Defensive positioning: In an attempt to generate more offense, MLB is experimenting with rule changes at every minor league level.
For Double-A, all infielders must begin each play with their feet on the infield dirt and not stationed deeper in the outfield. This will eliminate certain defensive shifts.
Also, it's possible that in the second half of the season that MLB will go a step further and eliminate all defensive shifts by requiring two infielders on each side of the second base bag as play begins.
Truncated schedule: The season is starting a month later and includes just 120 games — down from 142.
Each homestand starts on a Tuesday, runs for six straight days, and includes the same opponent.
The team is off every Monday.
The season extends about two weeks later than usual into mid-September.
If you're a Pirates fans and were hoping to see Altoona come into town ... you won't. The Curve is not scheduled to visit Reading this season.
Also, the Fightins don't visit Altoona this season.
Postseason: There will be no playoffs in minor league baseball this season.
Tickets: Because of uncertainties as the season begins, the Fightin Phils are selling individual game tickets only for the upcoming homestand, not in advance.
Season-ticket packages can be purchased.
Home clubhouses: In order to observe social distancing, the Fightin Phils are spreading their players out by utilizing two auxiliary clubhouses, in addition to their main clubhouse. Each will house about 10 players.
Giveaway items: Because crowd sizes will be limited, at least to start the season, some big promotional items are being given away on consecutive games, such as the 70th anniversary fleece blanket, which will be given out to the first 2,000 fans for Tuesday's opener and for the first 1,500 at Wednesday's game.
Among the promotions curbed by COVID (at least for the time being) are the pregame first pitches, made by fans celebrating birthdays and special occasions.
Concessions: All regular concession items will be available. However, the left field buffet option will not be available for all home dates.
Eastern League: Reading has fielded teams in the Eastern League (or New York-Penn League, as it was once known) since 1933.
The league was dissolved by MLB and replaced by the Double-A Northeast League.
The Northeast League includes 11 of the 12 teams that played in the Eastern League in 2019; the lone exception is Trenton, which was replaced by Somerset, N.J., and is now home for the New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate.