ARLINGTON: A view as the Texas Rangers take on the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the fourth inning on Opening Day at Globe Life Field on Monday in Arlington, Texas. - AFP

HOUSTON: The Texas Rangers played out their home opener to a packed house on Monday, the largest crowd at a US sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A near-capacity crowd of around 40,000 fans crammed into the baseball club's Globe Life Field for the game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The decision to allow a capacity crowd at the game followed Texas Governor Greg Abbott's order last month to fully reopen the state. US President Joe Biden last week criticized the decision to allow a full house at Monday's game saying the Rangers were not being "responsible."

"That's a decision they made. I think it's a mistake," Biden said in an interview with ESPN. "They should listen to Dr [Anthony] Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it's not responsible." Although the coronavirus situation is improving across the United States with steep declines in infection rates and millions being vaccinated every day, most sporting venues are still operating at reduced capacity.

The 40,300-capacity Globe Life Field staged last year's World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, allowing around 11,400 fans into the stadium. In announcing plans to welcome a capacity crowd last month, Rangers officials detailed a series of safety protocols which included fans being required to wear masks at all times except when eating and drinking.

However photos and footage from Monday's game in Arlington showed swathes of fans ignoring the mask mandate, either by wearing a mask incorrectly or in many cases, not at all. Texas leader Abbott meanwhile snubbed an invitation to throw the first ceremonial pitch at Monday's game in protest against Major League Baseball's decision last week to withdraw this year's All Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia's new voting rights legislation.

"It is shameful that America's pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives," Abbott said. Critics of the Georgia law say it will make voting harder for minorities in the state, which delivered a stunning victory to US President Biden in the 2020 election. - AFP