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Reds Opening Day Brings Fans - And Fears - To Great American Ball Park

cincinnati reds opening day 2021
Aaron Doster
A flyover is performed during the national anthem prior to the baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Thursday, April 1, 2021.

There's no question Opening Day 2021 was a strange one. In addition to below-normal temperatures, there also were below-level crowds due to COVID-19 capacity limits. The Findlay Market Opening Day Parade was canceled for the second year in a row, but there were still plenty of crowds to be found.

Before the first pitch at 4:10 p.m., people gathered at The Banks, which had just recently been granted DORA status — or Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area — allowing people to carry open beverage containers, including alcohol, outside the grounds of restaurants and bars. Despite city leaders urging fans maintain social distancing and even putting some measures in place to encourage it, people largely stood should-to-shoulder and maskless before Great American Ball Park opened its gates. 

reds opening day the banks 2021
Credit Jason Whitman / WVXU

Two days before Opening Day, on March 30, Councilman David Mann shared his concerns about the DORA district given reports of large crowds on its first weekend

"I move for a report from the city administration evaluating the compliance with basic COVID precautions by this past weekend’s attendees at The Banks DORA and what additional enforcement or education may be appropriate to minimize the risk that the DORA will become a major source of new COVID cases," he wrote in a motion. 

reds opening day the banks 2021
Credit Jason Whitman / WVXU

"We all look forward to the day when we can move around mask free without social distancing," he said. "That moment is getting close, but we cannot risk causing a setback with a surge of new cases."

reds opening day the banks 2021
Credit Jason Whitman / WVXU

On what Hamilton County officials termed "Opening Day Eve," Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman requested people visiting Great American Ball Park on Thursday do so responsibly and keep their distance in the DORA district.

"And I know that the more we come together and let our guard down, the greater opportunity there is for us to increase COVID activity within our community," he said Wednesday. "So my plea with everyone is while it's wonderful to be outside, while it's wonderful to get activities back together, we all have to play a role to make sure that Hamilton County can get things back to normal."

reds opening day the banks 2021
Credit Jason Whitman / WVXU

This Opening Day for the Reds was historic in other ways too: Hall of Fame Reds shortstop Barry Larkin made his debut as an analyst on the Reds TV team with new play-by-play announcer John Sadak, marking the first time in five decades a Brennaman wasn't in the broadcast booth for the Reds. (Marty Brennaman retired after 46 seasons in 2019. His son Thom resigned after 13 seasons on Sept. 25, 2020, after he was caught on camera making a homophobic slur.)

—Cory Sharber and John Kiesewetter contributed to this report.