Baseball came back on Monday, but it looked different than we’ve ever seen before.
With the coronavirus pandemic preventing fans from safely attending games, MLB teams are playing in empty stadiums in front of no audience. Clubs also must follow strict and extensive health and safety protocols, which have affected some of the normal customs and logistics we’re used to.
We’ve known these changes were coming for a while, but Monday was the first time we really got to see them in action, in a live televised game. Here are some of the sights and sounds from the Oakland A’s exhibition game against the San Francisco Giants at the Coliseum (click here for game recap).
With no fans to cheer for the opening lineups, the players took it upon themselves to get hyped for each other.
A’s bullpen cheering on as the starting lineup is announced. pic.twitter.com/49Scpohpgs— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) July 21, 2020
Many of them are sitting in the stands because dugout access is limited this season, mostly to players who are in the game or might come in. Everyone else is in the first few rows of seats, under tents — one behind each dugout, and one behind each bullpen. Not gonna lie, there were a couple moments during the broadcast when I saw someone in the stands and thought, dang, that fan looks exactly like so-and-so player, before realizing it was that player, just in a different place than I’m used to seeing him.
It was weird for the players, too, who are not accustomed to sitting there any more than we’re used to them doing so.
Mike Fiers on watching tonight's game from the stands: "Really just felt like the minor leagues where starting pitchers do the charts. I’ve been in that position before. So it’s a different perspective being in the stands but it’s not too bad." #Athletics— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) July 21, 2020
As for the rest of the seats, many of them are filled with cardboard cutouts of the A’s faithful supporters. Fans are able to buy one and send in a photo of themselves (some chose to feature other loved ones like their dog or baby), allowing them to virtually attend the game and support the team in spirit.
I’ve made some new friends today. pic.twitter.com/ewlYfZi0if— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) July 21, 2020
These came out really well, or as well as could be hoped given the limitations of the medium. But if you think lifeless cutouts in general are creepy from the front, just wait until you see a crowd of them from the back.
Seventh-inning stretch, but cutouts are already stretched. pic.twitter.com/Kri1kkSuOj— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) July 21, 2020
An army of ghosts preparing to descend and feast upon the living? Or maybe this is what the Field Of Dreams cornfield would look like if you removed all the corn, with thousands of benevolent spirits just gathering together to enjoy watching their favorite sport for all eternity. The organ music echoing throughout the cavernous, mostly deserted stadium further added to the haunting effect, stirring up feelings of the old Oakland Mausoleum nickname.
Returning to the front side of the cutouts, former star pitcher Dave Stewart was among them — and wearing the hell out of that particularly sharp jersey, which Athletics Nation recently voted as the best design in Oakland A’s history (using almost that identical photo of Stew as the model).
RF Will even got to meet his cutout! (Which reminds me, Dallas Braden was sitting a couple rows in front of his own cutout during the broadcast last night, making it occasionally visible behind him while he was talking on camera.) Will was in the stadium to help set up the RF Bleacher Crew’s usual assortment of awesome signs.
All told, there were several thousand cutouts in the seats on Monday, with the chance for that number to grow as the season begins and more are purchased.
Nice touch from the #Athletics, who announced the cutout attendance as 5,100.— John Hickey (@JHickey3) July 21, 2020
The cutouts even got to enjoy the traditional mid-inning entertainment.
A's just played the dot race on the video board between innings -- so apparently those were for the players all along— Matt Kawahara (@matthewkawahara) July 21, 2020
Finally, there’s the matter of what it all sounded like. The team pumped in artificial crowd noise during the game, to mixed reviews.
There is some pretty light piped in crowd noise, complete with drumming and some "Let's Go Oakland!" chants, but it really doesn't sound that ... real. It's getting louder and louder though.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 21, 2020
I agree with Slusser’s take that the noise was a bit on the quiet side, which took away from how real it could sound. Of course, this was only the first attempt at simulating the sounds of cheering, so we’ll see how it evolves over the coming days and weeks.
All in all, the whole episode was weird. But a lot of the oddities weren’t immediately visible from the vantage point of our TV sets at home, and once the action got going on the field it was surprisingly easy to focus on the sport and forget everything else. Baseball is weird right now in a lot of ways that none of us would have chosen, and we can look forward to a return to normalcy someday. But for now at least MLB is back, and everyone seems to be putting on a positive attitude and making the best of the situation.
The A’s and Giants play again tonight, and you can click here for all the details on how to watch, including TV and online streaming info.