There were a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty whipping through Jeremy Aagard’s office for most of the offseason.
The Rochester Honkers general manager just wasn’t sure what to expect as he tried to prepare for the 2021 Northwoods League baseball season.
But Aagard finally got some much-needed answers when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz removed capacity restrictions for outdoor events beginning on May 28. That means the Honkers will be able to host a crowd at full capacity for all regular season home games, starting with their home opener against Eau Claire on Tuesday at Mayo Field.
"Now that we’re open 100 percent, we couldn’t be more excited,” Aagard said. "It still could look a little different than years past. There will be plenty of hand sanitizers around. We are trying to make sure everyone is comfortable. I guess it’s a little more nerve-wracking than other years because we don’t truly know what our attendance will look like."
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic and government-imposed restrictions on the number of fan allowed to attend events led to some sections of seating at Mayo Field being taped off. The bleachers were filled with little pieces of tape that designated the areas where fans were supposed to sit. Fans won't see that this year.
"I know our Minnesota teams are extremely excited,” Aagard said. “The Twins and the St. Paul Saints have done everything right and we look to follow that suit properly."
The Honkers have been hard at work at putting together a roster, and most of the players are making their way into Rochester this week. Aagard noted that most of the players have already been vaccinated.
"We have a couple guys that are going to get vaccinated before they get here and some that are going to go through the process once they get here,” Aagard said. "It’s been very nice to hear.”
Last season, Honkers manager Deskaheh 'Bomber' Bomberry said he basically spent his entire summer either at the baseball field or in his hotel room. That certainly wasn't easy on Bomberry or some of the Honkers' players.
There will be loosened restrictions in 2021. If a positive test pops up, players and coaches will still be subject to the Northwoods League's protocols, where players and team officials will have to quarantine if they are deemed a close contact. But with a large majority of the team already being vaccinated, Aagard is hopeful that the Honkers will not have to miss a week’s worth of games like they did early in the season last year. Weekly COVID tests will not be required and masks won't be required on the field or in the dugout, unless a player chooses to wear one.
"We want to do things the right way and err on the side of caution,” Aagard said.
After a trying seven-win season in 2020, Aagard said he is ready for a fresh summer, but he hasn’t put any added pressure on first-year manager Paul Weidner to hit a threshold of wins to constitute a successful 2021 campaign.
"For me, I might be different than some general managers around the country,” Aagard said. “Once I hire the coach, it’s up to him to be successful on the field. And yes I am competitive. I want to win a championship. But my job is to make sure that I give these players and coaches everything they need off the field in order to be successful on the field.”
It's been a whirlwind for Aagard as the days until Opening Day (Monday) dwindled.
Now, he's just ready for baseball and for a smooth summer both on and off the field.