Three weeks before opening day of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, the Mariners can already celebrate one small victory.  

The team’s proposal to bring fans back into T-Mobile Park has won approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, who on Thursday announced the plan as part of a new phase in the state’s COVID-19 reopening measures.

The Mariners will be allowed to host up to 9,000 fans at T-Mobile Park for the start of the season, which begins April 1 against the San Francisco Giants.

Fans will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Fans will also be allowed back into games for the Seattle Sounders FC and OL Reign, at 25% of their venues’ capacity. High school and youth sports will be allowed to have more spectators, too.

Mariners chairman John Stanton said Wednesday he had been working closely with local agencies over the past few months on safety protocols for reopening the ballpark.

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“The health and safety of our fans, players and employees is our number one consideration,” Stanton said in a statement Thursday. “With the guidance of experts and best practices for health and safety, we are thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to T-Mobile Park for the first time since 2019. I want to thank Governor Inslee, King County Executive (Dow) Constantine and (Seattle) Mayor (Jenny) Durkan for their leadership and Public Health Seattle and King County Director Patty Hayes and her department for their guidance through this process as we have worked to create a safe experience at T-Mobile Park for fans, our players and employees.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais, in a virtual news conference before Inslee’s announcement Thursday, was hopeful that the state would approve the team’s plan. The Mariners, like most MLB teams, played their pandemic-shortened 2020 season last summer in front of empty stands at their home park.

“It would mean a lot to our players, to myself. We desperately missed it last year,” Servais said. “I know many teams already have come out publicly and said that they are going to open up at 25 (or) 50 percent — even some have said 100 percent, which is a little bit alarming.

“I really am hopeful that we do the right thing in Seattle, let some of our fans back in the ballpark. It does mean the world to us.”

The Mariners announced that season-ticket holders will have priority access to tickets. For now, the team is selling tickets for only the first 11 games of the season.

The team will offer a presale starting March 24 to those who subscribe to the “Mariners Mail” newsletter (mariners.com/mail). Remaining tickets for single-game buyers will be available at 10 a.m. on March 25.

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The Mariners also announced several enhanced health and safety measures, including:

  • Masks: All spectators (2 and older) will be required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth. Masks are required at all times except when actively eating or drinking.
  • Digital tickets: To reduce contact between spectators and staff, all tickets will be digital.
  • Security screening: In an effort to speed up entry into the park, no outside food or drinks will be allowed into games. Bags, backpacks and purses have also been banned.
  • No cash: All transactions inside the park will require a debit or credit card. (Those with cash can convert it at new cash-to-card kiosks.)
  • New menus: Food offerings will focus on individually packaged items.
  • Cleaning: The Mariners will “utilize the latest technology and products” to clean and sanitize any potential presence of COVID-19.

Sounders, OL Reign planning for fans, too

Opening-match pageantry like unveiling a tifo and singalongs are expected to be part of Sounders FC matches this season. The club confirmed it is exploring ways to take advantage of Inslee clearing sports venues to host fans up to 25% of a site’s capacity.

The Sounders open the 2021 MLS season April 16 at Lumen Field with a rematch of last year’s Western Conference championship clash with the Minnesota United FC. The Sounders won 3-2, scoring all of their goals in the final 15 minutes of play.

Peter Tomozawa, the Sounders’ president of business operations, expressed caution in the plan to permit fans for the first time since March 7, 2020. Any strategy must also pass MLS safety protocols, but the club is working with local health officials and First & Goal Inc. in finalizing the layout.

“We have said all along that public health and safety must come first before welcoming fans back,” Tomozawa said in a statement. “While today’s news provides the type of hope and inspiration we all need right now, we will continue to take a methodical approach in implementing this process alongside regional health authorities, our partners at Lumen Field and MLS. We will announce more details in the days to come, but for now, this is a moment worth celebrating across our region.”

Sounders’ season-ticket holders retain the first right to attend all future home games. Many deferred their purchases from last season to do so; the club sent a one-question survey to all members Wednesday to assess interest.

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OL Reign is undergoing a similar process but is more resolute in expectations to host fans at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma for its NWSL Challenge Cup opener April 16. It will face the Houston Dash.

“We were very happy to see the announcement,” Bill Predmore, the Reign’s CEO and minority owner, said via text message. “There are still details to finalize, but we are expecting to have fans at our matches this season.”

Capacity up to 25% for high school sports

Thursday’s announcement had a double impact on King County’s high school sports scene.

First, attendance at outdoor facilities with permanent seating will increase to 25% capacity. For high school sports that begins March 18, which could allow parents to catch the end of the season for this first season of sports, which includes football. Previously, only 200 people were allowed at an event, and that included the participants.

The announcement also opened the door for basketball and wrestling to be played this school year. Those sports, along with cheerleading, are considered high-risk indoor sports, and until Thursday’s announcement there was no plan for those sports to be played.

The Metro League is planning for basketball and wrestling to begin April 19, the earliest of the big-school leagues in King County.

Reporter Jayda Evans and high school sports coordinator Nathan Joyce contributed to this report.