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Baseball returns to the Med City with new guidelines

Honkers players warm up before first home game

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) - The Rochester Honkers welcomed the St. Cloud Rox to Mayo Field for the first home game of the season.

It has taken months of planning, weeks of rethinking and days of scrambling for everything to come together in time for the first pitch.

One of the inaugural teams in the Northwoods League, the Rochester Honkers have had to follow the league's COVID-19 readiness plan ahead of its 27th season.

"You shouldn't see much of a difference in the gameday experience except that it'll be on a smaller scale," said Jeremy Aagard, general manager of the Rochester Honkers.

Staff members sanitize the stadium and set social distancing markers for seating on top of masks and gloves.

"Normally we have about two or three months to get this all done," Aagard said. "We had about 10 days to get it all done."

Aafter months of recruiting, some last second changes were needed.

"We had to do some shuffling with the roster. There were some players that were not comfortable with traveling and coming across the country," said field manager Deskaheh Bomberry.

Despite the changes to the ballgame experience, Honkers fans are glad to be back at Mayo Field.

"It's my summer getaway," said longtime Honkers fan Rod Fiek.

"We like baseball. It's just a fun game," said fan Paul Blomberg. "It's all part of summer."

It's not just the baseball that keeps fans coming back.

"All of the staff are really friendly. They make you feel like you want to come back again," Fiek said. "They're drawing you into the stadium instead of pushing you out of the door. I think most people respond to that. I have."

Friday's home opener was sold out, or at least at 250 max capacity.

"We'll come a couple times this year. I like how they've spread out the rows so I'm perfectly comfortable coming," said Deb Blomberg. "I think if we take precautions, we're all going to be fine."

The season has been shortened to 40 games and the Honkers will compete in a pod against only four other teams from Minnesota and Iowa. Yet this does not concern players or fans.

"They want to have a good experience. They want to play against good people," Bomberrry said. "I don't think they're going to be too concerned with what it says on the uniform."

"20 [games] away. 20 here. I plan to be here for all 20," said Fiek.

Friday's first pitch was thrown at 7 but the Honkers fell to the Rox in their home opener. They travel to Willmar for a four-game series before welcoming the Stingers to Rochester on Wednesday.

Alex Tejada

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