KNOXVILLE, Tenn — For the first time in nearly one year, the voice of broadcaster Brian Rice echoed out online before the first pitch of a Lady Vol softball game. It's the only place on Sunday you can follow along as Tennessee starts its home opener.
"It's been a long journey, there are no fans in the stands today," Rice said.
"Ashley Rogers rips and fires, ball one outside and we are underway for the 2021 season here at Lee Stadium."
If you want to find fans, you're going to have to look a little closer.... closer...
"Come on Ashley!"
There they are.
"We are so excited to finally get to watch some softball."
Up the hill behind the stadium, near the train tracks, Lynda Rogers is here to watch her daughter, Ashley, pitch for the Lady Vols. The starter was injured before the COVID-19 shutdown, so it's been a bit since she's had a chance.
"It's been a long time, 600 and something days she said, since it's been a real game, so we're desperate for softball which is why we're out here on the train tracks," Rogers said.
The home opening doubleheader required a quick adjustment after the Kickin' Chicken Classic in Conway, South Carolina was canceled due to inclement weather on Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the games against Eastern Kentucky were on the books and ready to go for Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, because of the last minute changes, Tennessee was unable to put together the personnel needed to host fans for the home game. The Lady Vols will host a limited number of fans at home games this season. Its next home games are Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 against Southeast Missouri State University and Miami (OH).
Back to the hill and Bryce Collier. His girlfriend is on the team. Collier is a former athlete himself, he knows that hard work put in for this moment. He was ready to come out and support them.
"I know how much it means to these girls, they haven't been able to play a different opponent for the past year. I know going through practice, it's great, you get to perfect your craft, but it's nothing like lacing up the cleats and playing against someone different. I know how much it means to them to finally get back on the field and finally show what they're capable of," Collier said.
So until the gates of Sherri Parker Lee Stadium open again, the view from outside isn't too bad.