The only contact the Pirates hope to have at PNC Park this season will be the bat hitting the ball.
Because of the pandemic, team officials created a touchless experience, from mobile ticketing to individually packaged food.
Officials on Monday announced the safety protocols during a news conference inside the ballpark.
“This is a long time coming,” Pirates President Travis Williams said. “We are incredibly excited to welcome back our fans. We want to emphasize the importance of the well-being of the fans is first and foremost as we reopen PNC Park.”
The Pirates host the Chicago Cubs at 1:35 p.m. Thursday for the home opener. Start times for evening games in April and May will be 6:35 p.m.
Masks will be required for all fans 2 and older unless actively eating or drinking in their ticketed seat.
Gaiters, bandanas, and face coverings with an exhalation valve or vent are prohibited.
There will be no tailgating allowed in parking lots or parking garages, the Pirates confirmed.
“We want this to be a positive experience and a time for fans who want to reconnect with family and friends,” Williams said. “It’s important that we provide that opportunity for them. It will be a touchless environment from the minute you walk into the ballpark. Digital ticketing is really important.”
Fans are asked to download the MLB ballpark app, said David Burke, executive vice president. It’s a one-stop shop to buy tickets and get access to parking, he said. Fans can have multiple tickets on one phone.
“It’s a slick tool that you can also use to transfer tickets to other people,” he said.
Burke said there still will be an option for fans who don’t have a smartphone to get printed tickets.
The park will be at 25% capacity, which translates to about 8,000-9,000 fans. Tickets will be sold in pods of two or four to allow for social distancing. No single tickets will be available.
“We are trying to get as many fans in as we can,” Burke said.
Fans will see many new clothing and accessory items, such as the “The Boys are Back” T-shirts, which Fanatics district manager Terry Walcutt expects will sell out. The store will offer new items, from a tie-dyed shirt to various hats for children and adults, and shirts that wick away moisture. There are some long-sleeve items for chilly early-season game nights.
The store will not accept cash.
“This is a cashless ballpark,” Williams said. “All concession stands and stores will be cashless. We will accept credit and debit cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay.”
For those with cash, there are reverse ATMs — machines that convert money to a prepaid Visa card. The free service is in sections 119 and 319.
The concourse areas will be open, devoid of tables, chairs and food stands, which will allow people to walk through safely.
Aramark general manager Brian Hediger demonstrated an artificial intelligence system where a food or drink item is placed on the platform and it takes a 360-degree image of the product and displays the price on a screen. The guest then pays with a credit or debit card.
Aramark executive chef Pastor Jimenez said his team has been working to provide freshness and a flavor profile for all of the food items.
“If the food is not right, we won’t serve it,” Jimenez said. “We have a great team on the field, and we also have a great team serving the food. My father was a chef and taught me: If it is something you wouldn’t eat, don’t expect anyone else to eat it.”
Items available on the Pittsburgh Baseball Club, called the club level, include classic Margherita and spicy pepperoni pizzas, baked wings seasoned with lemon, garlic and rosemary, and bruschetta chicken wrap.
The suites will have healthy options such as a Farmer’s Salad of baby greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, a smoked turkey and provolone sandwich, a grilled chicken wrap, and fresh fruit and berries.
General concession offerings in the market include the TLC chicken sandwich and rotational menu items. Chickie & Pete’s now is in three locations — Sections 115 and 310 and Pop’s Plaza. There are two areas for the Bucaroos family value items in Sections 146 and 307.
The Home Plate Club food items will be served by chef-attended stations. Items will reflect the opponent. For the Cubs series, there will be a Chicago-style hot dog with peppers, tomatoes, onions, yellow mustard, relish, celery and dill pickle on a poppy seed roll. Other items include buttermilk and Sriracha fried chicken slider, a grilled vegetable wrap and a BLT slider.
The suites will be limited to 13 people and will be an open-air setup with individually wrapped food instead of the usual buffet style.
A sensory room for those with special needs and a nursing station for breastfeeding moms will be available. These two services are in conjunction with the Pirates’ partnership with Allegheny Health Network. The two teamed to vaccinate 17,500 people at PNC Park.
The sensory room is a safe space with bean bags, a touch panel and subdued lighting. It is a quiet area. One family will be admitted at a time for 15 minutes or longer, if needed. The safety netting along the first- and third-base lines will be protecting real people and not just cardboard cutouts, Williams said. Fans will not be permitted to get players’ autographs for safety reasons.
“We want people to feel comfortable coming back,” Williams said.