Ahh yes, the two sweetest words of
Spring Summer: Opening Day. The smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of newly painted foul lines, and the sound of fa… oh wait. Players and coaches across Major League Baseball are adjusting to playing America’s National Pastime in empty stadiums due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Cardboard Cutout Casualties
Home field advantage is no longer a major factor in the shortened 60-game 2020 MLB season as all fanbases, including the Bleacher Creatures and the 7 Line Army, are watching from their living rooms. Baseball stadiums were not completely empty as some were partially filled with cardboard cut-outs (creepy), over-sized stuffed animals, and of course, more corporate advertising.
Some teams, such as the Mets and Dodgers, allowed fans the opportunity to be featured behind home plate as giant cardboard cut-outs all season long for a small price. The smiling cardboard cut-outs have the same emotion whether their team blows it in extras or blasts a walk-off grand slam; they’re just happy to be there. Luckily, warnings of flying baseballs and bats that fans are accustom to when attending games don’t apply in the 2020 season. Unfortunately, there were a few cut-out casualties, including the opposite field HR off the bat of Atlanta Braves OF Adam Duvall that claimed the cut-out life of Willow, the beloved dog of New York Mets 2019 All-Star 3B Jeff McNeil (no actual dogs were harmed during Opening Weekend).
In an attempt to normalize an already weird season, all 30 teams are using fake fan noises in the stadiums from Sony’s popular video game MLB: The Show. Although the reviews have been mixed, watching a baseball game with essentially zero background noise is way too uncomfortable to handle. I don’t need the crowd erupting for every ground ball single or strikeout. Maybe replicate a vendor yelling “ice cold beer” so we think it’s real? Overall, the idea is good, just need to work on the execution.
Opinion: The Virtual Fan Experiment Stinks
Fox Sports took the fan-less stadium experience to the next level as they debuted “virtual fans” during the Saturday matinee broadcast between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. I was intrigued to see how it would go and well, I immediately hated it.
Look, I think I speak for most die-hard baseball fans when I say that I am truly embracing all the oddities that comes with the price of having to enjoy baseball amidst a pandemic, but I cannot get into the virtual fan experience. 99% of the fans looked bored – all they were missing were cell phones to aimlessly scroll Twitter. On top of that, the virtual fans were not implemented for every camera angle, which was especially evident during home runs (might I add it was impossible to see where the ball landed amongst the Sim characters, if you will). Virtual fan experiment: nice thought, but put this one in the Astros trash can, and add Cleatus the Robot in there while we’re at it.
It’s Back Folks
Regardless of the fake crowd noise, cardboard cut-outs, and whatever else was/wasn’t in the seats, we got to watch real meaningful baseball. Will fans be allowed to attend games at some point during the season? Will we be able to complete the season without any major coronavirus outbreaks (thanks Miami)? Will Fox keep the dreadful virtual fan experiment?
These are all questions that will go unanswered for the time being. Major League Baseball is a very different game in 2020 (hint: next week’s article), but after a long sports-less quarantine, baseball is BACK.
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