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‘It’s been too long’

Curve, fans return to ballpark

Former Altoona Curve Booster Club president John Prosperi (left) catches up with Bill and Kassy Olewiler, all of Altoona at the Curve’s home opener on Tuesday evening. Kassy is a booster club board member. / Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Bill and Kassy Olewiler of Altoona just visited the Grand Canyon for the first time over the past few days, and their trip was everything they had hoped it would be. But they still couldn’t wait to get back home for another very important and long-awaited event.

“We planned to go and be back for the start of the Curve,” Bill Olewiler said.

There’s no way the longtime season-ticket holders would have missed Tuesday night’s game against Bowie. It marked the first Altoona Curve game at Peoples Natural Gas Field in 610 days, due to last season getting canceled because of COVID-19.

“It just seems like forever since we’ve had a baseball game,” Kassy said with a big grin. “I can’t believe we’re finally back. It’s been too long.”

Twins Bisyr (center) and Zahyr O'Neil, 10, admire a baseball tossed to them by Altoona Curve catcher Deon Stafford at the home opener at PNG Field as they sit with their stepfather Julian Beasley, all of Altoona, on Tuesday evening. / Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Smiles could be seen everywhere on the faces of fans on the PNG Field concourse before the game. The evening had sort of a family reunion type of feel, as many fans were able to get reacquainted with their ballpark friends for the first time since Aug. 29, 2019.

“I’m very happy, very excited to be able to be here at Curve, Pa.,” ballpark stalwart Sharon Oakman of Altoona said. “I’m so glad that after 600 days we’re able to be back among our Curve family.”

Oakman said not getting to see the Curve last year was “awful.”

“I’m a Curve girl through and through, and not having the boys of summer and the rest of the Curve family and all the friends, it was rough.”

The Curve franchise means a lot of things to Altoona, Blair County and the region. There are the financial elements, to be sure, of travel and tourism dollars, which Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico pointed out. But that’s only one part of what the Curve bring to the area.

“Everybody’s mental health was affected by the pandemic,” Pacifico said, “and then not having the sort of outlets like the Curve to be able to go to (was tough).”

Tuesday’s game was a sellout, but only 2,300 fans could attend because of state restrictions and limits on public gatherings. However, news broke Tuesday afternoon that Gov. Tom Wolf would be ending the restrictions on gathering limits effective May 31, which came as great news to Curve general manager Derek Martin.

“I was probably like a 4- or 5-year-old at Christmastime, to be honest. It was great to see,” Martin said. “I was getting lunch, and my phone just started blowing up.”

Later in the evening, the Curve announced they would be in position to start selling 100% capacity at PNG Field beginning June 8.

“Our staff has been incredible and proactive and having plans in place for when we get to this point, so we already have been working toward this in case it would happen,” Martin said.

The news from Gov. Wolf was another step closer to life getting more and more back to normal following the pandemic.

“There’s also the family friendly, fun aspect of the Curve,” Pacifico said. “That’s the one thing that everybody misses the most and is excited to get back to.

“Once we are able to get back to that point where we have 100 percent (capacity), that’s the sense of normalcy everybody has been striving for. That’s been the end goal this entire time.”

The end goal for John Prosperi, president of the Altoona Curve Booster Club, has been two-fold.

“For me personally, it’s getting out and seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time,” Prosperi said.

“The stadium’s always been known as a very friendly, social place where people get a chance to see people they may not see on a regular basis. For me, it’s definitely important to be out socializing, but also because I like baseball and I enjoy watching the players develop.”

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