Baseball is back (but kinda weird), and my Minnesota Twins are off to a very good start. After eleven games, they have a 9-2 record (.818), and they’re the number two team in the American League. (The bad news is that our long-time nemesis, the damn Yankees, are number one.)
It’s going to be a very short season (60 games rather than 162) with an extended postseason — just over half the 30 teams (16, rather than the usual 10) will get at least one postseason game. And, of course, none of it is being played in front of fans.
Just one more aspect of our COVID-19 world.
(It’s funny the things I miss sometimes: I didn’t put together that the -19 is a reference to 2019, the year the virus was detected. I just assumed it was a variant number, the 19th such virus type. But it’s like astronomical objects — tagged by the year of their discovery. To quote Captain Joe, “A good pilot is always learning!”)
The season finally started in late July — over three-and-a-half months late. The Twins played their first game (in Chicago against the White Sox) on the 24th, but there were two games that opened the season the day before. (That’s pretty typical. There is often just one AL game and one NL game to kick off the season.)
Postseason apparently will take two winners from each of the six divisions — the two teams with the best record in the division (which may require some tie-breaker games). Of the remaining 18 teams (three in each division), there will be (as usual) four Wildcard teams, two from each league.
All together, 16 of the 30 MLB teams will make it into postseason one way or another (and 14 just go home). I haven’t looked at the playoff structure, but I know it ends with the two traditional Championship Series and then a World Series. (I believe there’s an extra Series tacked on to the front to resolve the two teams from each division thing. I think it’s a three-game series.)
Speaking of our weird world, yesterday’s day game was briefly delayed due to a drone approaching the field. The players retreated to the dugouts and everyone stood around watching this thing — like some monstrous wasp — until it flew away.
I wonder if they’ll track down the operator. It’s an FAA violation to approach sports venues like that. The police are looking into it.
[Wow. It’s kind of awkward talking about “the police” anymore. That phrase didn’t used to have so much freight loaded on it.]
In baseball there are the occasional delays: injury delays, rain delays, severe weather delays (winds, tornadoes), electrical outage delays, animal or person on the field delays, and bee swarm delays. I think this may be the first drone delay, though. It’s certainly the first one I, or the announcers, have seen.
The double-edged sword of modern technology.
Also: stupid people. Or possibly assholes. Maybe both.
Of course, there are no fans in the stands. That’s a bummer for the players as well as the fans — the game has no home town crowd energy!
Venues pipe in fake crowd noise, and they’re using the usual player-selected walk-up tunes and stadium stuff — the organ music for instance. On the other hand, they’re not doing the Seventh Inning Stretch or the crowd songs (since 9/11 American the Beautiful has replaced Take Me Out to the Ballgame — maybe it’s time we got over that and returned to peanuts and cracker jack — at least stop taking your hat off; it’s not our National Anthem).
The MLB app has a thing where one can cheer for their team (or any team), so venues also have fan-created noise they can put through the PA.
(I keep meaning to check it out during a game, but keep forgetting, since I don’t use the app to watch the Twins. I’m not sure if one really yells into one’s phone or if there is a menu of canned cheers on a menu. The former seems to have some potential for abuse.)
To disguise the empty seats, most venues have brought in fake fans, too.
The first ones I saw, during the Twins road games in Chicago, were life-size upper-body photos of fans printed on cardboard. A lot of the venues were doing that. I believe in some (or all?) cases, it was linked to a charity drive. Fans would pay to have their photos included.
(I heard one guy bought a whole section to fill with 100 copies of himself.)
When the Twins got back to town for their first home series, I saw they’d taken a slightly different tack:
Giant heads! Giant Twins heads!
What’s hysterical to me is how they’re peeping out over the seats. Giant heads sneaking a peek at the game. The life-size versions were weird enough, but these are downright disconcerting.
Technology allows those of us watching from home to see computer-generated fans filling the stands,… but only in certain wide shots.
I’ve seen this now in a few Twins broadcasts. It doesn’t look that bad in the wide shots, but when they cut to another (closer) angle, suddenly the seats are empty again.
Given how technology in sports progresses, if this COVID things keeps up, which apparently it will, I’d bet bagels to baseball bats we’ll be seeing better and better computer-generated fans in more and more camera angles.
I’ve watched any number of technologies improve over the years. Many home viewers may not realize certain ads are inserted digitally. People at the park don’t see them.
Watching a few foul ball catches, it occurred to me that not having fans in the stand does have one tiny advantage.
When a player goes for a foul fly ball that’s headed just into the stands, that play has to worry about contact with the wall between the field and the stands, but they also have to worry about the fans.
Fans really want to catch that fly ball — some will reach over the wall to catch one, much to the outrage of players and other fans. There is, in baseball, an official call, “Fan Interference” — it results in a dead ball.
With no fans, players don’t suffer that source of interference, and they know they can reach safely into the stands to catch a ball just over the wall. So there’s a teeny tiny silver lining to it all.
(Players cannot leave the field of play, but they can reach out so long as both feet remain over the field of play. Tumbling into the stands is okay so long as the ball has already been caught.)
Another very visible change (besides all the people wearing masks) is the no-contact ethic.
Some contact is necessary (tagging a player, mostly), but baseball really isn’t a contact sport — not since they banned collisions at home plate and got picky about sliding into second.
But when, say, a player has a walk-off hit that wins a game, that player is usually mobbed in joyous celebration by his teammates.
Now they stand around and cheer without touching. And the winning team round of high-fives is replaces by elbow bumps.
But baseball is back.
The Miami Marlins were shut down for about a week due to players testing positive. The St. Louis Cardinals also had some players test positive. For a while, it seemed like bringing baseball back was a mistake.
It may still prove to be. The Marlins has everyone a bit more cautious, one hopes, but we’ll see how it goes. With their season coming up, I’m sure football fans are paying a lot of attention.
Stay safe, my friends! Wear your masks — COVID-19 is airborne!