CINCINNATI — K.C. Green has been a Reds season-ticket holder for 37 years. But there is something obviously different about this Opening Day.
The Evendale resident simply can't wait to walk into Great American Ball Park and take his seats along the first-base side.
"It's going to be like heaven," Green said.
A year after a shortened Major League Baseball season during the COVID-19 pandemic didn't allow for fans at GABP, the anticipation is significant for the start of April with a limited amount of fans able to return.
"It's going to be a little weird, because there is not going to be that many people there," Green said.
"I think something on the order of 13,000 or so. But, I'm going to bet that they're going to be ultra vocal, ultra excited, because these are all people that have been pent up for a year and are just chomping at the bit to get out and get some normalcy back to their life that they haven't had since this pandemic kicked in."
Phil Castellini, the president and chief operating officer for the Reds, has no doubt the energy around the city will be palpable, even though GABP is at 30% capacity as directed by the Ohio governor's office.
"It's not going to feel like the 45,000 (fans) Opening Day normally feels like," said Castellini.
"But I can promise you having sat through all of the 30 games last year – if not for our grounds crew doing such a great job making noise – that 12,000 fans at Great American is going to sound like a roar, and certainly to our players, and I know they're looking forward to that energy."
The Reds host the St. Louis Cardinals in the season opener at 4:10 p.m. April 1 at GABP. It is the first of a six-game homestand as several MLB teams plan to return with fans.
Castellini is optimistic that a greater number of fans may be allowed as the season progresses.
"We're optimistic that at some point in season that as the vaccinations get out, as people take them, as we get closer to herd immunity, cases per 100,000 come down – that will help to open up to a larger capacity. But we'll wait to see as that comes. But we're pretty optimistic," Castellini said.
GABP seats are being designated in pods of two, four or six with social distancing measures in place.
Some season-ticket holders like Green had to be relocated with his four seats.
In other cases, refunds were issued while others rolled over money for the 2022 season.
"We honored seniority and how many years you've been in and all that kind of stuff, so I can't say everybody was wildly excited about it, but on a percentage basis we had a very small percentage of people get upset enough to leave or cancel accounts," Castellini said.
"We were surprised and pleased that with how many people retained and understood what we're doing and why and stuck with the investment. So we're very happy about that."
Though his seats moved back about a dozen rows and down two sections, Green said he understands what the team needed to do to fulfill social distancing requirements.
In fact, he's happy with tickets going digital so he can easily share with family and friends through an app.
"I'm sure it was a tough job to begin with to try to move people around and have them far enough apart," Green said.
"I was frankly thrilled that the seat location was still so darn good. I was worried that I'd get moved into a completely different section. So no complaints at all. I don't know how they could've been more reasonable about giving us options."
Besides the limited fan capacity, there are some other noticeable differences at GABP this week.
Castellini said fans will notice signs with umpire logos spelling out safety messages across the stadium by emphasizing masks, social distancing and washing of hands. Castellini told MLB.com backpacks won't be allowed except for reasons related to children.
The health and safety precautions will be emphasized around the stadium.
"That message will be blanketed from the time you're walking through parking garages until you get up to the Crosley Terrace. You're going to see our lines spaced out," Castellini said.
"You're going to see our people reminding you of all the safety protocols and we're also trying to do as touchless as possible, so converting to all digital tickets, cashless – you won't see hawkers in the stands. When you come into the building you'll see the stickers on the ground like you see in other points of retail today."
Castellini said there are four or five new features of GABP that will be noticed by the public for the first time since the 2020 regular season didn't allow fans.
Those include a full replacement of the playing surface, brand new scoreboards and ribbon board displays and the relocation of the press box to the third base line.
The press box is reinvented into the new Bourbon Press Club, sponsored by Boone County Distilling Company.
There is also a second family zone on the view level, which includes batting cages, playground, a second nursing suite and a sensory suite for children.
There are also some renovations to the fan zone, too.
Castellini said the organization can't wait to see fans return to GABP.
"I do think these live events – music, sports, entertainment – that's really the piece that's been offline the longest and so I can tell you I am going to feel excited about it and I know the fans are going to be," Castellini said.
"Getting baseball started, spring in Cincinnati, getting to Opening Day is a huge thing even though it isn't exactly the norm. We're wildly excited about getting it going."