In March 2020, all of Cal Poly’s sports teams were forced to cancel their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than an entire calendar year later, Cal Poly Athletics allowed fans to enter the stands again at a limited capacity.
The first team to allow spectators once again was the Cal Poly Baseball team, who opened Baggett Stadium to limited capacity for the first time on April 1 in a series against San Jose State.
However, before April 1, the team was forced to play 21 games in empty stadiums.
“It was weird at first with no fans because you could hear everything going on,” redshirt senior catcher Myles Emmerson said. “Playing in games felt a lot more like practice.”
As one of the more popular sports in terms of fan turnout, the baseball team was in unprecedented waters without the bustle of a crowd and the yells of hecklers.
Redshirt junior Andrew Alvarez, who has been with the team for four seasons, had “never experienced anything like it.”
“It’s my fourth year now so I’ve been used to having that stadium packed,” Alvarez said. “The games felt like the intra squads we play in the fall or the winter. You miss that feeling you get when everyone is there for you.”
Emmerson explained the importance of the energy that fans bring to games day in and day out and how, for the first 21 games of the season, the team was forced to create that enthusiasm themselves.
“As a team, we had to bring even more energy because there weren’t fans,” Emmerson said. “We had to stay on pitches and be on higher alert because there wasn’t any other outside energy.”
Once San Luis Obispo County entered a less restrictive tier as COVID-19 cases began to drop, Cal Poly Athletics announced that a limited number of fans would be allowed inside Baggett Stadium for the remainder of the baseball season.
On April 1, the team was able to take the field to the sound of fans cheering and clapping for their hometown Mustangs for the first time in 13 months.
“Fans make the game better,” Emmerson said. “They bring energy back to the ballpark and everyone loves playing with fans. Everyone’s goal is to play in the big leagues and play in front of thousands of fans and this is a piece of that.”
Both Emmerson and Alvarez explained how they do not necessarily notice the fans when they are in the middle of the action, calling everything that goes on around them “white noise.”
However, they did highlight that the energy from the stands is very much present in certain situations. In fact, Alvarez made the point that having fans back “brings back a little bit of normalcy to our lives.”
“It definitely does help coming off the mound after a big inning or a big play and getting that energy to transfer for the rest of the team,” Alvarez said.
Emmerson pointed out the biggest difference when it comes to having fans in the stands.
“Hearing everyone erupt when something crazy happens is the biggest difference,” Emmerson said. “Without fans you really miss that.”
Aside from the players, bringing fans back to Cal Poly sports is great for both the university, and the greater San Luis Obispo community, Head Coach Larry Lee said.
“It gives something for our community to do and gives them an outlet to watch a sporting event live again,” Lee said. “It’s great that our boosters and donors can enjoy watching games from our new clubhouse.”
The new clubhouse, which was completed in the months prior to the 2021 season, is now a place where certain fans are able to enjoy baseball games from a balcony overlooking the third base line at Baggett Stadium.
Alvarez added to Lee’s point about how the stadium being opened up to fans is important for the non-student San Luis Obispo population, saying “Cal Poly means a lot to the community and we have a lot of people who like to come and support us.”
A vital part of this Cal Poly community and Cal Poly Athletics fanbase are the parents and family members of players.
In fact, when asked his favorite part about having fans back in attendance, Emmerson said, “I really like seeing my parents in the stands while I’m playing.”
“A player knowing that his parents have an opportunity to see him play has been great,” Lee said. “It can be tough not being able to watch your son play for, in some cases, the last time.”
The impact of having fans back in the stands can be seen every game from here on out for the Mustangs, as Baggett Stadium will continue to house fans at a limited capacity for the remainder of the 2021 baseball season.