ARLINGTON, Texas — For 54 consecutive years Mike Amodei attended at least one Dodgers game a season, beginning with a Sandy Koufax start in 1966. Nothing would ever stop him from keeping his streak alive, he thought — until a once-in-a-century pandemic put it in jeopardy.
Though Major League Baseball has managed to carry out a 60-game regular season and an expanded postseason, fans were not permitted to attend games for months because of the coronavirus.
“I thought it was over,” Amodei said from the lower concourse at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field. “And then this happened.”
“This,” to clarify, is the National League Championship Series, the first games that fans have been allowed to attend since spring training, before the pandemic struck. Amodei, 63, seized the opportunity.
A book editor from South Bend, Ind., who grew up in Southern California, he bought a ticket online, jumped on a plane and arrived in Texas in time for Game 3 on Wednesday, when he witnessed the Dodgers’ historic 15-3 beatdown of the Atlanta Braves.
“I’ll spend the night in long-term parking, and I’ll be back at work tomorrow,” Amodei said before the game. “But I kept the streak alive.”
So, too, did M.L.B., which has allowed about 10,000 paying customers into the N.L.C.S. games at Globe Life Field, where the audience replaced the cardboard replicas of fans that have dotted seats in ballparks all season.
Because of the pandemic, baseball opted to use four neutral sites for the final three rounds of the postseason, minimizing travel and its attendant risks while creating something of a protective bubble for the teams that kept playing deep into October. The World Series next week will also be held at Globe Life Field, and will also have real people in the seats watching baseball, cheering for their team and buying beer and merchandise.
But the lack of a true home team is one more quirk in the unusual fan experience at these playoffs. While a few N.F.L. teams, NASCAR and some college football teams have allowed fans back into their familiar stadiums — including the Dallas Cowboys’ domed stadium just down the road, which has hosted more than 20,000 people in each of the team’s three home games — M.L.B. invited the regular followers of postseason teams to irregular locations.
“It’s got a kind of Super Bowl-ish feel to it,” said Chris Harkey, a Braves fan from Asheboro, N.C., who flew in with his wife, Lauren Breedlove, to watch Game 3. “It’s exciting with the mix of different fans.”
Throughout the N.L.C.S., fans in a variety of team colors entered the stadium, which opened this year with a capacity of 40,000 spectators but has yet to be filled. Tickets were sold in blocks of four, spaced apart from other blocks. The unavailable seats had plastic straps attached to them, and the first several rows were blocked off.
During batting practice at the first game of the series, fans charged to those front rows trying to retrieve balls hit over the fence, clustering in proximity to one another. For later games, tarps were placed over those seats, and yellow caution tape limited access for ball-seeking fans.
Fans generally wore masks and often maintained distance from one another. But as each game wore on and the beer flowed, some masks fell down around necks as the shouting increased.
After Game 4, a 10-2 Atlanta victory, bands of seemingly drunken Braves fans, bombinating their droning tomahawk chant, roamed the area around the stadium as if it were 2019, and a nearby hotel lobby was dotted with groups of unmasked fans in their reverie.
Texas, which reported about 32,000 new cases of the coronavirus over the seven days before Friday’s Game 5, has 111 cases per 100,000 people, placing it roughly in the middle of the pack compared with other states. But like other parts of the country, Texas has seen a recent uptick in cases.
Among more than two dozen people interviewed over two days at the stadium, no one seemed…