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The Haunting Experience Of Attending A Fanless MLB Game In The Pandemic

If a baseball game is played and no one was at it, did it really happen? OK, that’s an over-exaggeration. Opening Day at T-Mobile Park could not have been more picture-perfect. Anyone that’s been to the Pacific Northwest in the summer will tell you that it’s a little slice of heaven. In the low 80s and a calm breeze, it was made for the Boys of Summer.

What wasn’t perfect was the lack of fans. In fact, everything about attending a game in the pandemic is strange. Minus players, around 100 staff, groundskeepers, and media social distance and wear masks trying their best to not stray from their duties at hand. On a day that would have seen countless memories made at the ballpark, it will instead be taken from a television or some other streaming device.

History is a difficult thing to measure while you’re in the midst of it. The moments in 2020 will be the subject of countless books, with many centering on baseball. After all, since a small group of Miami Marlins players tested positive for COVID-19, their team has become decimated. All told, 60% of the 30-man roster at the time of publication of this story (don’t blink or there will be more), will have now tested positive. Sequestered in a hotel in Philadelphia since the outbreak, the matter is now so bad that the team will have to travel 18 hours by “sleeper” bus to get back home. Other teams beyond the Marlins that have since been impacted by some sort of scheduling nightmare around the coronavirus include the Phillies, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals. The situation is so dire that Commissioner Manfred communicated with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark that if the protocols agreed with to start the shortened regular season were not more closely adhered to, the season – – now just over a week old – – would be canceled.

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Against the backdrop, the motions that feel anything like what an MLB game should feel like, move forward in the ballpark The PA announcer says “Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Welcome to Opening Day!” Except the concourses are empty. There is the flatness of the experience. The fake cheers when the Mariners are introduced tastes like saccharine. The cardboard fans look like some Walmart version of the terracotta warriors. The media faces covered in masks, look on, and type away in some Orwellian landscape. It is some futuristic world in which fans don’t attend games, it is all for television.

Like all Opening Days, a video designed to tug on your heartstrings is shown on the massive video board. Ken Griffey narrates talking about baseball in the pandemic before the game. The ground crew works away. The team mingles about the dugout. No fans to cheer as highlights of the Mariners team that is the youngest in the league are shown. One pictures fans at home clapping under the cold glow of the television.

It all seemed like a dress rehearsal. This couldn’t possibly be real. And yet, here it is. The teams line up on the baselines for introductions before the adulation of cardboard cutouts. The starting 9 is announced to The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy and the crowd buzz generated from Sony’s MLB The Show sounds more like white noise as the sound bounces around the empty cavernous T-Mobile Park where there would normally be tens of thousands.

For the players, it is business as unusual. Dee Gordon races around the basepaths with a full mask which makes one wonder, if Dee can do that kind of amazing thing why can’t America collectively all do it when we are involved in the mundane?

As the red, white, and blue bunting slowly waves in the breeze around the suite level that sits empty, it’s as if America is waving at its National Pastime from a distance – – a sad analogy for the state of baseball. The PA blares the music as the ginormous video board plays to the small gathering. The hype of it is designed to jack fans up, but when it ends, it’s more like the quiet reserved for a funeral.

As the first pitch crosses the plate from Taijuan Walker to Marcus Semien on an evening made for baseball, the focus returns to the great game. It’s about baseball in a vacuum. It is on the field. The silence of the surrounding almost feels as if there is reverence for it all in the green and brown gloriousness of what many say is a cathedral. And yet, it is beautiful and unholy all at once. The pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt is almost deafening. All one can hear is the chatter of the players and the occasional noise in the press box over the ocean-like sound of the artificial crowd. It is a moment in time that history will remember. It is a moment in time, we’d all rather go away. Baseball was never meant to be played like this.

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