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Here’s what the largest crowd at a U.S. sports event since the pandemic began looked like

More than 38,000 baseball fans attended the Texas Rangers opening day on April 5 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tex., despite coronavirus concerns. (Video: MLB)

The scene — a packed ballpark in early April — looked and felt normal, but in a pandemic-marked year it was anything but that as fans packed Globe Life Field for the Texas Rangers’ home opener, marking the largest American sports crowd since the coronavirus pandemic began last year.

There were nods to the pandemic, with fans required to wear masks or face coverings and to practice social distancing at concession stands and on the concourses, when the Rangers announced plans to open their stadium after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) lifted capacity limits last month.

On Monday, official attendance was listed as 38,232 in the 40,518-capacity stadium. Free tickets for health-care workers and others were not counted, so the game was considered a sellout. In February, the Daytona 500 took place before a crowd of just over 30,000 (capacity: 101,500) and the Super Bowl was played before 24,835 fans in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which can be arranged to hold 75,000.

Fans may have thronged to the stadium in Arlington, but there was some initial apprehension.

Gerald Esparza, a 63-year-old fan from Fort Worth, attended with his 27-year-old son after their experience at last week’s two exhibitions, which drew a total of 23,000 fans. Both have been vaccinated. “We thought they had enough [safety precautions] in place that we felt comfortable,” Esparza’s son told the Star-Telegram, asking that it not use his name. The season ticket holders were content to wear masks, and MLB asks all fans over the age of 2 to wear them.

“We still wear our masks just to be respectful,” Esparza said. “As long as businesses can stay open, and the Rangers are open, I have no problem wearing the masks if that’s what keeps everything open.”

Before the game, there were frequent reminders over the public-address system to fans to follow health protocols and set aside any political feelings.

“You can have your opinion on it, but at the same time our country is moving forward. It symbolizes a little bit of hope,” Rangers Manager Chris Woodward said (via the Star-Telegram). “We haven’t had a full crowd in a long time in any sport. To be the first one, as long as it’s done right and responsible, we should be fine.”

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Former president George W. Bush, a former Rangers owner, and Laura Bush sat in a field-level suite with Craig Biggio, the Houston Astros’ Hall of Famer whose son plays for the Blue Jays. Ferguson Jenkins, another Hall of Famer, who pitched for the Rangers for six seasons, also was present.

“It was definitely cool, that extra little adrenaline warming up and getting into the game,” Blue Jays starting pitcher Steven Matz told reporters (via the Associated Press) after Toronto’s 6-2 victory. “It was fun. It felt really good to have fans in the stands.”

The Rangers made the decision to allow the big crowd because so few had been able to attend games in the stadium, which opened last year. Going forward, the team will reduce capacity to encourage social distancing. Although neither the Daytona 500 nor the Super Bowl appear to have become superspreader events, Monday’s packed stadium came as coronavirus infections are falling in Texas but rising across the United States.

On Monday, for at least a day, “it felt like a real game,” Woodward said. “It felt like back to the old days when we had full capacity.”

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