PITTSFIELD — It has been 661 days since the Pittsfield Suns last played a baseball game on the diamond at Wahconah Park. But who’s counting.

Joe Ryan of Pittsfield, known to baseball fans in Berkshire County as “Banjo Joe,” might have been. He had to be smiling under his mask when he walked through the gates of the old ballpark on Wahconah Street Thursday.

“Tremendously,” he said, when asked how much he missed the Suns and baseball.

Ryan was one of the first spectators into Wahconah Park when the gates opened one hour before the 6:35 p.m. first pitch for the Suns’ home opener against the New Britain Bees.

The last time Ryan was in Wahconah Park was Aug. 4, 2019, when the Suns beat Westfield 6-4. The Futures League played a truncated 2020 season, but the Suns did not participate.

“I just missed it so much,” Ryan said. “I love baseball. I love Pittsfield baseball at Wahconah Park. I’ve been coming up here since 1951. To me, it’s just, to me, the greatest thing to be able to come out here on summer nights, sit in my seat, play the banjo and have a cold beer.”

Wahconah Park was still under Massachusetts COVID-19 regulations which permit a maximum of 25 percent capacity. All spectators were supposed to wear masks, and an overwhelming majority of those fans in the park were adhering to the mask rules. Even the right field beer garden had fans lining up against the fence.

Jared Senzo, 13, of Pittsfield, can’t sit and have a cold one. But the city resident was all smiles when he was asked about having the team back.

“I’m pretty pumped, to be honest. I love the sport of baseball and I’m excited to see one of my favorite teams play,” Senzo said before the start of the game. “The pandemic really negatively affected society, and I’m glad just to be back in public and having fun.”

Mike Goldklang, representing the Goldklang Group that owns the Suns and affiliated minor league teams in Minnesota, New York and South Carolina, spoke to fans just before Pittsfield native Izaiya Mestre threw the game’s first pitch for the Suns.

“I’m just so thrilled to have a season back and baseball back after the last two years,” Goldklang said in an interview with the Eagle.

Goldklang said he has been to the openers of the group’s other three franchises, and the mood has been the same as it is in Pittsfield.

“I’ve got to say that universally, people are just so happy to be back outside enjoying a ball game,” he said. “Life is a little different. It’s different for everybody. If we can kind of bring a sense of normalcy into people’s lives, that’s what we do here.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. On Twitter: @howardherman

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.