Texas Rangers may allow 100% fan capacity for MLB home opener

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers could have a full house for their home opener next month after debuting their 40,518-seat stadium without fans in the stands for their games last season.

If that happens, the Rangers could be the first team in Major League Baseball or any major U.S.-based sport to have a full-capacity crowd since the coronavirus pandemic started rapidly shutting down sports a year ago this week.

On the same day that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's order took effect allowing businesses in the state to operate at 100% capacity, Rangers president of business operations and COO Neil Leibman said the team hopes to be at that for the April 5 opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Local officials would be able to impose "mitigation strategies" such as reduced capacity if virus hospitalizations exceed 15% of all hospital capacity in their region over certain periods.

Even with his order, Abbott has encouraged the public to continue practicing social distancing measures and wearing masks, even though they are no longer mandated.

The Rangers will still require fans to wear masks for games, unless they are actively eating and drinking at their seats, as was the case for postseason MLB games played at their stadium in October.

After the Rangers played all 30 of their home games during the shortened 2020 season without fans, MLB allowed about 28% capacity at the retractable-roof stadium for the National League Championship Series and World Series that were played there exclusively. Abbott was on hand for the World Series opener, where he got to deliver the "Play Ball!" message before a crowd of 11,388.

Texas had been allowing some fans at sporting events from high schools all the way through the top professional leagues since last summer, and most teams and leagues have kept attendance at sharply reduced levels.