GLENDALE, Ariz. — Major-league ballplayers feed off the fans’ energy and dig playing in front of crowds more than fans might know.
They listen, they watch and they thrive off crowds, which were absent last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Until Monday, they still were not officially known to be in the plans for some teams during the 2021 season.
So when Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that fans, on a limited basis, will be able to return to Guaranteed Rate Field to watch the White Sox beginning with their home opener April 8, the reaction was a big thumbs-up.
It will be back to being baseball as it was meant to be.
‘‘We’re all complementary to the two most important things: the players who play and the fans who pay to watch them and be entertained,’’ Sox manager Tony La Russa said Monday. ‘‘You have half the equation if the players are playing. We needed the other side, so that’s great news.’’
Fans have been allowed on a limited basis at Cactus League games in the Phoenix area. Most crowds have been fewer than 2,000, but it’s much better than nothing. With the Sox positioned for a second consecutive postseason berth, their fans want to see them, too.
‘‘Having fans in the stands will be great,’’ Sox reliever Evan Marshall said. ‘‘We are working hard to put a championship-level product on the field, and we want the South Side to see, feel, embrace and rally behind us in 2021.’’
Brooks Boyer, the chief revenue and marketing officer for the Sox, said he has heard players’ comments about having fans at spring-training games.
‘‘For us to be able to have fans back in the ballpark, it’s awesome,’’ Boyer said. ‘‘It’s going to be a great atmosphere on Opening Day. The fact that we haven’t had any fans in the ballpark since 2019 and the development this ballclub has made over that stretch of time, it’s super-exciting.’’
Second baseman Nick Madrigal, who played his first Cactus League game Monday — he is coming back from shoulder surgery — will play his first major-league game in front of fans next month after breaking into the majors last season.
‘‘I overheard some of the guys talking about it in the clubhouse, and we’re all very excited,’’ Madrigal said. ‘‘I haven’t experienced the fans in our home ballpark, but I’m excited for that. It’s an exciting thing. We’re looking forward to it, and hopefully it’s open everywhere we go. Our home ballpark will be a lot better this year.’’
La Russa said he heard talk of players playing more relaxed last season because there were no fans. But he also heard some were not as fired up performing in empty parks.
‘‘Everybody raises their level if there are people watching,’’ La Russa said.
‘‘Once the game happens, we’re out there competing, no matter if there are fans in the stands or not,’’ Madrigal said. ‘‘But there was a part of the game missing. I think everyone kind of missed that. There’s just that extra adrenaline when the crowd’s screaming and you get the base hit.’’