Royals are expecting to have fans at games this season and the players are so excited

By Pete Grathoff
The Kansas City Star/TNS

During the Royals' spring opener on Sunday, a pop fly was lost in the Arizona sun, and fell for a hit. That's when second baseman Nicky Lopez heard something he didn't realize he had missed.

Booing.

Yes, the Royals-Rangers game in Surprise, Arizona, was the first time in roughly a year that Lopez or any of his teammates had played in front of fans. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball chose not to allow fans into regular-season games.

"You heard a fan like boo and it's like, 'Oh, it's kind of nice to hear someone boo for once,'" Lopez said. "It was kind of cool. Just hearing chirping and cheering whenever you score and whenever someone was going up to bat a round of applause, it was really cool and that's the way baseball is supposed to be played."

Lopez said he's been told Kauffman Stadium will be at 30% capacity for games this season, which would mean a little more than 11,000 fans would be in the stands.

Major League Baseball has made no official announcement yet about fans at games. However, the Royals had hoped to have fans at Kauffman Stadium last August and September, so the franchise is ready to fill at least some of the seats this season. Season-ticket holders are expected to have the first pick for tickets.

What do Royals players think of fans returning to Kauffman Stadium?

"It would mean everything," third baseman Hunter Dozier said. "Fans are a huge part of this game and that's what part of being in the big leagues is about. Going out there, running out into Kauffman, I remember when I got called up, it was a packed house.

"I mean just the emotions and the adrenaline that the fans create for players, you can't replace that. So we're super excited to get fans back. I know everyone's looking forward to it, and we can't wait to see them."

The Royals, like the rest of Major League Baseball, did their best to banish the silence from games. There was piped-in artificial fan noise following big hits and nice defensive plays.

But that wasn't a hit with the players.

"That generated crowd noise just ain't it," left-hander Danny Duffy said. "I'm sorry, I missed the fans. I miss the back-and-forths, and in batting practice being able to play catch with a kid in left field. Those are the things we kind of missed out on last year and I know for a fact I'll never take that for granted again.

"I actually was fortunate enough to go to a Chiefs game in the playoffs against the Browns and there was like 16,000 people there. And it felt like a full house with regards to what we had last year, and if we get even a percentage of that, it's going to be sick, I'm really excited. I miss the fans, we all do. And they're a huge part of what we're trying to accomplish."

Outfielder Whit Merrifield believes not having fans hurt the Royals at times in 2020 because the team feeds off the emotion of the crowd. Sure, after a big hit during a late-inning rally the fake fan noise would play. However, it would stop seconds after a player reached base.

That's not what happens with a stadium full of fans as there is a discernible buzz and the occasional request for a tip of the cap after a home run.

It was so bad that Merrifield was actually happy to play a shortened 2021 season.

"I was glad we only played 60 games," Merrifield said. "I thought man I was gonna explode if we had to play anymore. It was like being in asylum. It was tough."