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The staff celebration for winning another Midwest League championship last season summarized perfectly an unusual 2021 experience for the Quad Cities River Bandits and fans of the local Minor League Baseball team. “There were more than a dozen people that couldn’t really put a face to the name,” Bandits General Manager Joe Kubly said, describing the awkward scene when coaches finally met some of the club’s front-office staffers. “All of those meetings you’re used to doing five days before the season starts? We were doing five days after the season ended,” he said. The distance was forced by Major League Baseball-mandated COVID-19 precautions limiting interaction between players and coaches with behind-the-scenes workers and fans in hopes of preventing the pandemic from spreading between either population. Instituted in the wake of a canceled 2020 Minor League season – and drastically shortened Major League campaign, the since-rescinded protective bubble prevented many of local team’s usual staples including community outreach events, player appearances and on-field in-game promotions. Even the innocent practice nationwide of players signing autographs for young fans was eliminated during the 2021 season as field, clubhouse and dugout access was restricted. “It was a very strange, very challenging season,” Mr. Kubly said. He noted that the season taxed his staff like no other before and that was despite being shortened because the season’s start was pushed back several times to early May. Besides winning the league title for the fourth time in 10 years, the Bandits were able to point to successes including an average attendance of 2,816 fans – only about 200 off the club’s five-year average despite the many challenges. Luxury Suites also were sold out for the season by Aug. 1, “which isn’t normal,” he added. Unlike several other clubs, the Bandits also reported no positive COVID tests – “Showing we were doing things right,” said Mr. Kubly. He was included in every-other-day testing with players, coaches and two other staffers working closely with the on-field personnel. “There were a lot of behind-the-scenes challenges the fans didn’t see,” he added. “We really tried last year to make the experience feel like it was the same, but it just wasn’t our normal show. “There’s so many different experiences that kids and even adults are going to remember for the rest of their lives. Getting back to doing those kinds of things is going to feel good this year.” The 2022 season begins Friday, April 8, on the road, with a 66-game home schedule opening Tuesday, April 12, at Davenport’s Modern Woodmen Park. Dave Heller, who is celebrating his 15th year as the Bandits’ primary owner, said a packed promotional calendar is the biggest the club has enjoyed in his tenure. “A lot of teams do discounted beers on Thursdays, but no one else gives away a free pint glass along with $2 beers,” Mr. Heller said, pointing to a mixture of giveaways, special events and daily specials highlighting each home game. The addition over the past decade of an amusement rides area beyond the left field fence has made the local ballpark a destination for growing families during Mr. Heller’s term. The club is hoping for similar results from a new feature in 2022 – a request by fans to turn the previous Sports Bar Lounge area on the concourse behind home plate into an all-you-can-eat-or-drink area for season- or upgraded-ticket holders. “They said, ‘Hey, we love going to your group areas for our company picnics and birthday party gatherings, but it would be great to just have a season ticket where you can do the same,’” Mr. Kubly said. The special area’s business and large group outings were slow during the start of last season, but after July 4 “We didn’t have room to put people some days, it was so crazy,” Mr. Kubly said. “In baseball, it’s always a little slower on Tuesday and Wednesday, and up on Thursday, then Friday, Saturday are the big days,” he added. “But from July 4 on, we were booking groups on Tuesday nights that would typically come out on Friday and Saturdays and doing 100 (fans for) all-you-can-eat.” To avoid any rush, business and large group outings are suggested to book early by filling out an interest form at the groups page on the team website at www.milb.com/quad-cities/ballpark/groups. “Whether you’re 5 or 85, there’s something for you to do at the park,” Mr. Kubly said. “We just try and make an experience for the whole family. There’s something for everybody to do so the hardcore baseball fan can enjoy it the same as the non-baseball fan. “Getting back to normal is the key. We didn’t play at all in 2020 and 2021 was a little strange. But now we’re able to get back to doing everything the way that we know how to do it – and that people remember before the pandemic – that full fan experience that everybody comes out for at Modern Woodmen Park.”