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'It's still opening day': RedHawks start abbreviated season before nearly 2,000 socially distanced fans

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The crowd follows social distancing guidelines with spaces between groups on Friday, July 3rd, during the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks season opener against the Winnipeg Goldeyes at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

FARGO — Mike Jones has been to every Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks home opener since the independent baseball club started play in 1996.

The team's 25th home opener Friday at Newman Outdoor Field wasn’t quite the same as the previous 24 with the season start date pushed back to July 3 amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the ballpark is operating at 50% maximum capacity, which is about 2,200 fans, due to COVID-19.

“It’s a little different, but it’s still opening day,” said Jones, who has been a RedHawks season-ticket holder since 2001 with his wife Linda. “It’s just great to be back outside watching baseball. Everything after coming into the ballpark was gravy.”

The RedHawks opened against the Winnipeg Goldeyes before 1,963 fans at Newman, starting a shortened 60-game American Association baseball regular season. Winnipeg first baseman Kyle Martin blasted a pair of two-run home runs to help lead the Goldeyes to a 9-5 victory on a sunny evening that was capped with postgame fireworks.

“I’m just so thankful that they decided to have a season,” Jones said. “For the life of me, I can’t remember what I did during the summer before RedHawks baseball.”

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Mike Jones talks to friends and family while watching the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks play against the Winnipeg Goldeyes on Friday, July 3rd, during the RedHawks season opener at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

The RedHawks rallied for four runs in the ninth inning, but couldn't overcome Winnipeg's big blasts that also included a Jordan George three-run home run in the ninth inning.

"I think we're all appreciative be out here and to be able to play baseball," said RedHawks interim manager Chris Coste in his postgame stadium interview. "We know the responsibility we have to baseball to doing things the right way."

Some of the pregame pomp and circumstance changed. All players for both teams were announced, including the starting lineup, like at typical home opener. However, the players were spaced around the entire infield diamond, about six feet apart, to maintain physical distance. Normally, players are usually lined up on the first-base and third-base lines for introductions.

The national anthems for both Canada and the United States were taped singers and played on the video board in left field. Normally, there is an on-field singer or group singing the national anthem live.

“The field is just in immaculate shape,” Jones said.

Dawn Morton has been a fan service representative for the RedHawks since the 1997 season. She is stationed on the concourse above the RedHawks dugout along the third-base line. She was excited to be back at the ballpark to reconnect with fans who are familiar faces and have become friends through the years.

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“That’s my summertime family. I see them more than family in the summer,” Morton said. “It’s like going back to school. You haven’t seen everybody since last September.”

RedHawks right fielder Blake Grant-Parks blasted a solo home run that tied the game at 1-1 in the third inning for F-M’s first run this season. F-M starter Bradin Hagens had a solid outing, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits in six innings. The right-hander struck out 10 batters and walked one.

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Dawn Morton talks and assists baseball fans on Friday, July 3rd, during the RedHawks season opener against the Winnipeg Goldeyes at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Morton is happy the American Association was able to have a season this summer, even if it’s 40 games less than the normal 100-game regular season.

“I always have adrenaline on opening day,” Morton said. “I had to remind myself not to hug people. It’s harder to smile with a (face) mask on and make that eye contact.”

Multiple rows of seats were closed and groups in the same row were separated by two empty seats to create physical distancing in the stands. Fans were encouraged to wear masks, but it was not required. Most fans at Friday’s game weren’t wearing masks.

Jones brought a mask to the ballpark, but didn’t plan to wear it unless it was needed.

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“If they do make it mandatory, I will wear a mask,” said Jones, who is 63 years old. “I feel 100% safe. I know the RedHawks are going to everything they can to make sure the players are safe, the fans are safe and to put on a great show.”

Jones said being in an outdoor setting is also important. Even though all tickets were general admission, Jones was able to get his customary seats in Section K in the first row above the RedHawks dugout.

“I feel like I’m going to be safe, especially outside,” Jones said. “If it was inside and basketball I might feel a little bit different.”

The RedHawks will share Newman Outdoor Field with the Winnipeg Goldeyes this summer with the Canada-United States border closed due to COVID-19. Jones said he plans to also attend Winnipeg games at Newman that don’t involve the RedHawks.

“I am going to go to see some Winnipeg games,” Jones said. “I think it’s important to support the stadium. I feel bad for the Winnipeg fans that can’t come down because they are always vocal, great, and they are always fun.”

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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