Crews are busy out at the Stockton Ports and Modesto Nuts ballparks as the teams prepare for opening day, and after a season that wasn’t, the return of baseball is both a morale boost and an economic driver for the communities.

“Our organization is ecstatic to finally bring professional baseball back to the Central Valley after such a tough year,” said Modesto Nuts General Manager Zach Brockman.

“We are excited to unveil our 2021 season schedule and to have professional baseball back at Banner Island Ballpark,” said Ports President Pat Filippone.

This season will start May 4 for both teams with the Modesto Nuts playing at home against the Stockton Ports.

The return of baseball does signify a step towards normalcy, but this will be a season that will look unlike any other season because of the various coronavirus precautions.

Both Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties are currently in the red tier and if that stays through to May, the teams will have to limit attendance to 20% of capacity. Tickets will have to be purchased in advance and masks will be required. This season when guests want to snack on a hot dog or nachos they’ll have to order it on a mobile device.

The seventh-inning stretch will remain, but the tradition of the first pitch will have to be set aside this season.

“We’re looking at possibly doing a virtual first pitch and showing it on our video board,” Filippone said.

Because of COVID-19 guidelines the teams have to restrict player access to fans but they are looking at some creative alternatives.

“We will try to build a bridge from fans to players since they won’t be able to come up and meet face to face,” Filippone said.

Besides being a morale boost to a local economy, the return of baseball will also be an economic boost to both communities. Both clubs have previously employed approximately 200 people each at the height of the seasons. Game days attract visitors which can benefit local hotels and restaurants and generate sales tax revenue for the cities. Additionally, the clubs have a variety of needs during a season and look to local vendors.

“We try to buy and use local vendors as much as we can,” Filippone said.

Baseball games also are economically-friendly for people looking for something to do without emptying the wallet.

“For our county, I can’t see a more valuable venue in the summer,” Brockman said. “Everyone can come out and enjoy a baseball game even if you’re not a baseball fan. The majority of our fans who come out probably couldn’t tell you the final score of the game, but they know they had fun and it didn’t break the bank for them.”

The Seattle Mariners made a complete purchase of the Modesto Nuts this year and have already made some improvements at the stadium, most notably by replacing the infield and laying new sod.

“Our organization is overjoyed and excited to now be exclusively owned by the Seattle Mariners,” Brockman said. “Since our initial partnership in 2016 they have been nothing short of extraordinary and I’m sure our new arrangement will help us grow significantly in the future.”

The Stockton Ports are continuing their partnership with the Oakland A’s.

“The Stockton Ports would like to thank the Oakland Athletics for the invitation to continue our partnership as an affiliated club. We have had a strong partnership for 16 years and look forward to many more as a member of the California League,” Filippone said.

Earlier this year Major League Baseball completed a realignment of minor league teams and this season California will be a low Class-A league. In addition to the Ports and Nuts, will include the San Jose Giants, Visalia Rawhide, Inland Empire 66ers, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Lake Elsinore Storm, and the Fresno Grizzlies.

Ticket packages and individual tickets are available from both clubs on their websites. For more information and complete schedules visit modestonuts.com and stocktonports.com.