FLINT CARMAN-AINSWORTH AT TC WEST

Traverse City West students cheer in the second quarter of Friday's game against Flint Carman-Ainsworth at Thirlby Field.

TRAVERSE CITY — The players are ready to play at Turtle Creek Stadium.

Now it looks like it may be possible for fans to return, too.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Friday that outdoor performance and sporting venues in MERC Regions 6 and 8, which include the counties that surround Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula, may begin gatherings of 500 fans on June 10 so long as participants can observe safety guidelines.

The capacity for sporting venues is double the 250 person limit issued for any other outdoor gathering. Physical distancing guidelines are still applicable unless a group lives in the same household. 

Whitmer called the announcement “great news.”

“That means some of the graduation ceremonies, we'll have to think about it in a new way if it was supposed to be over 500, but we can start to think about and start to plan for that,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer said that steps might be taken to increase already-reduced capacities within phase five of the state's MI Safe Start plan. 

"I would love to keep kind of ratcheting up that engagement, even when you're in phase five at a lower capacity, maybe we'll be able to take additional steps," Whitmer said. "But filling a stadium again probably won't happen until we have a vaccine and that's going to be a while."

Mickey Graham, General Manager of the Traverse City Pit Spitters, thought Friday’s news was “hopeful.”

“The players want to play. We want the ballpark open for people of northern Michigan,” Graham said. “With everything that's been going on, people need activities and normalcy and we think we can help bring that to people.”

Graham said the team is in constant contact with the Northwoods League regarding the beginning of its season, but has been difficult to work through because it operates teams in seven states and Canada.

The Bismarck Larks and a three-team pod in North Dakota are due to resume their season on June 15.

Graham said a stadium with 500 fans will look different.

“Any sort of game and experience that we're gonna have this year is going to have to be slimmed down,” Graham said. “That's not the experience that we want to provide to all the fans, as far as the promotions and the variety of concession items, but all of that's just gonna have to be trimmed down not only from a socially distance and socially responsible piece, but also from financial piece.”

Geoff Kimmerly, Communications Director of the MHSAA, said the association should have a response as for how the state’s relaxed guidelines affect high school sports “early next week” as the association digests what Friday’s order means in the terms of its own guidelines.

The MHSAA’s response to Monday’s allowance of outdoor gatherings up to 100 followed a similar timeline. 

Kimmerly called it an encouraging step at first glance.

“We are gearing up for fall practice in August, and our schools are putting a lot of thought into summer training with these additional safety precautions,” Kimmerly wrote in an email.

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