Starting June 2nd, Progressive Field can be seated at full capacity, and masks will no longer be required, in accordance with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions on that date.
Governor DeWine announced on May 17th that fully vaccinated people are no longer mandated to wear them in most situations, aligning with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Non-vaccinated individuals are expected to continue wearing masks until June 2nd, though this will not be enforced and will strictly be based on the honor system.
One exception is that all individuals, whether vaccinated or not, must continue to mask up when face coverings are required by specific businesses and organizations. According to the Indians website, masks are still mandated at Progressive Field, for now.
As part of their COVID-19 safety protocols for the 2021 season, the Cleveland Indians made a move to 100% paperless ticketing and placed restrictions on the types and sizes of bags permitted in Progressive Field, only allowing diaper bags, medical bags, and clutch purses.
When most of the other COVID-19 practices are lifted on June 2nd, paperless ticketing and bag restrictions will remain firmly in place, implying those changes were never about safety at all.
I've been to four games so far this season. I had to get every bit as close to the woman checking tickets at the gate to allow her to scan my phone as I would have if I were holding up my paper ticket instead.
In fact, the scanners seemed to take longer to register the code on my phone than they used to with the paper tickets, meaning I was standing mere inches from another human being for longer than I would have with my paper ticket in 2019.
I didn't feel unsafe. We were both masked, and I am now fully vaccinated. My point is that the Cleveland Indians organization used the guise of COVID-19 protocols to phase out paper tickets altogether and force reluctant fans into lockstep.
Full disclosure: I have a smartphone but I liked my paper ticket. It became an automatic souvenir from a fun event. I could make notes about gameplay and statistics on it. I could use it to fan myself on sweltering summer evenings.
Fact is, the Indians have wanted everyone to move to paperless tickets for a while now. And those of us who preferred paper saw the writing on the wall. We knew this day would come eventually. It just seems disingenuous that the organization used the pandemic as an excuse to make it happen.
I can't help but feel like it's taking America’s Pastime and making it an exclusive club. While those of us who have used smartphones for years might find this hard to believe, plenty of people (gasp) don’t actually want one. And plenty of other folks either can’t afford one or simply don’t choose to prioritize their money that way.
The Indians have done a great job of making sure affordable ticket options exist so people can attend games regardless of how much they are able or prefer to spend. The bleachers have always been inexpensive, and whoever came up with the idea for the standing room tickets that include a small drink should definitely get a raise.
In many ways, the paperless ticket mandate is negating those efforts by essentially requiring that fans own a smartphone to enter the ballpark.
Smartphones are ridiculously expensive. Even with my company's negotiated deal with our service provider, my iPhone 11 (certainly not the latest, greatest, priciest model) cost $550.
Cheaper options exist (Samsung's Galaxy A series, for example) but you still have to deal with the exorbitant monthly fees.
Quite frankly, I wouldn’t waste money on the thing if I didn’t need it for my job. (My husband threatens, at least once a week, to toss it out the window if I don't stop looking at it.)
The bag restriction, on the other hand, I originally accepted as a more reasonable safety-related request in the era of COVID-19. The Indians didn't want fans queuing up at the entrance gates any more than necessary, and sifting through multiple large bags increases the amount of time people spend getting into the ballpark.
But if it really was a safety issue, to begin with, why is that rule continuing when the other safety regulations are lifted on June 2nd?
I have a sneaking suspicion (and hopefully the Indians will prove me wrong by removing the bag restriction at a later date) that they've taken advantage of the pandemic to permanently implement a rule that will allow them to largely prevent people from bringing their own food into the ballpark, something that was allowed within reason previously.
I tend to carry a few things to most games: sunglasses, sunscreen (for day games), towels, blankets (in the early, chillier months), sometimes a notebook for jotting down things that happen during the game, now that I no longer have my paper ticket to use for this purpose. I used to sometimes bring one of those little packs of hummus with pretzel chips, or an energy bar in case I wanted a snack, though we spend plenty at the concession stands too.
I can't fit all of that in a clutch purse, and there's only so much one can juggle separately while walking through the ballpark. It's not the biggest deal in the world, but it's something that will detract from the overall game experience for many people.
Unfortunately, it seems the bag restriction, like the paperless tickets, really had little to do with safety after all.