By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There it was, right in front of me, a small line of fans waiting to gain entrance to Banks Field to watch the Iowa baseball team play on Friday, and to watch for the first time this season.
Men, women, children, you know, fans, eager to watch and cheer for their team.
It was the same a week earlier when fans watched the Iowa softball team play at Pearl Field.
Iowa fans have embraced the 50 percent capacity rule that is now being enforced as we slowly, but surely move closer to normalcy during what, hopefully, is the latter stages of a global pandemic.
Baseball and softball both had their 2020 seasons cut short by the outbreak of the coronavirus last spring, and then played the first part of this season without fans.
So what happened on Friday at Banks Field represents a significant step forward.
Iowa also treated the fans to a 7-1 victory over Minnesota, its sixth win in the last seven games.
“Even though it’s fifty percent capacity, from our first series to now, it just feels like it’s back, the energy from the fans makes it a lot more fun to play baseball,” said Iowa first baseman Peyton Williams, who treated the fans to a grand slam home run in the fifth inning.
Saturday’s game was postponed until Sunday due to the weather, and Iowa and Minnesota will now a play a doubleheader on Sunday in front of fans.
Masks still are required, along with social distancing, and that makes sense because this highly contagious virus still is a threat as more than 1,000 Iowa City students are currently in quarantine.
Now is not the time to letdown your guard, or to get complacent because any setbacks that would occur with spring sports could impact what Iowa does for football.
To have 50 percent capacity for football would be a big step up from last season when stadiums were mostly empty, other than a few hundred family and staff members in the stands.
It was great to have football late last fall, but it just wasn’t the same without the stands packed with fans.
Basketball, even with Luka Garza’s legendary presence, was also much different with Carver-Hawkeye Arena mostly empty this season.
I’ll never take fans for granted again, or complain about traffic gridlock or long lines at the concession stand because the alternative is much worse.
Well, I’m sure I’ll start complaining again, but you get my point.
Fans matter, and that was apparent during Friday’s baseball game when there were at least two questionable calls that worked against Iowa.
I would never encourage or condone yelling at an umpire, but it was sort of refreshing to hear some Iowa fans voice their displeasure.
It felt normal again, fans screaming at an umpire, even while wearing masks.
Kinnick Stadium at 50 percent capacity would have about 35,000 fans and that would be enough to create an atmosphere.
But with more people getting vaccinated, and with better medical awareness and treatment for the virus, perhaps there will be more than 50 percent capacity for football.
The fans, by offering words of encouragement, helped to keep the Iowa baseball players energized when Iowa was held scoreless for the first four innings of Friday’s game at Banks Field.
Between that and fans ragging on the umpires and the sound of music blasting from the press box, it just felt normal again.
Even the chilly April night felt normal because the Iowa baseball team has played its share of games in cold weather this time of year.
It felt like we’re moving in the right direction, and its’s about time.
The challenge now is to keep moving in the right direction.