With the cancellation of the Minor League Baseball season this year, Cooley Law School Stadium, the home of the Lansing Lugnuts, has sat mostly vacant all summer.
However, a new series of games kicked off at the stadium July 23 to give fans a taste of the baseball they’ve been missing.
It’s what the Lugnuts are calling their Lemonade League. Two teams made up of collegiate players face off each game with wooden bats and yellow baseballs.
And you wouldn’t realize it by looking at the thousands of empty seats, but it was a sold-out crowd Thursday night.
Matt Meyer came to the game. He says he’s never seen a smaller crowd at the stadium.
“We’d been here in like April and not had too many other people here, and it’s always kind of strange,” he said. “But it’s even weirder to look over and just see nobody at all, especially when it’s a beautiful day, but obviously we understand why."
The stadium has a capacity of 11,000. Meyer was one of 100 fans allowed to come in person to Opening Day of the summer Lemonade League.
Masks were required, even for players in the dugout, and everyone had their temperature checked coming in. But for most fans there, that was all worth it to be able to catch a baseball game in person this summer.
David Lockman was at the game with his son, John. John says his dad has been going back to watch old Lugnuts games online every evening.
“It’s definitely been a hole in his heart this summer,” he said.
Needless to say, David was ecstatic when he found out about the league.
“I thought it was awesome. I was delighted. Ask anyone I work with, I was bothering people for weeks.”
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail worked with the Lugnuts to develop a safety plan. She made it out to the stadium to see how things we’re going.
“When we got sat here, we got told that we are supposed to stay here, and we got told that if we were going to get up, we can go to the bathroom, and ‘please put your mask back on,’” she said.
For Vail, there’s a right and wrong way to hold events like this, but it’s just not possible to keep everyone cooped up at home all the time.
“That’s going to be the way that we can get people out and doing things, and also stay safe because people need to get out and socialize and be together to some extent too, you know, but we have to do it safe.”
Meyer says it was all those precautions that made him feel comfortable enough to come to the game.
"I mean, nothing can be perfectly safe right now, but we’re outside, we’re distanced, you have to wear a mask. It feels as safe as it can be, and I get to watch baseball.”
The Lugnuts do have a plan to deal with all those empty seats. They’re selling weatherproof and customizable cutouts of fans that will sit behind home plate.
At the end of the night, the Collegiate Lugnuts came out on top over the Collegiate Locos with a score of 10-4.
There are 16 more games in the Lugnuts’ Lemonade League from now until August 20th.