Baseball is Back!

Hooray!

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.

Not to be taken as a statement about shallow fans…

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:

Feels like we’re being watched…

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.

No actual humans included in this shot!

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!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

14 responses to “Baseball is Back!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I checked out the “Cheer at the Ballpark” feature. As I suspected, one gets a (rather small) menu of possible inputs:

    Cheer for the Twins

    Boo, Cheer, or Clap. I do kind of like the Attendance bar. It shows 100% Minnesota because it’s just me checking it out. I assume during the game tonight there will be more reasonable percentages.

    Starts with a menu of games today, then a selection of which team to cheer for, then you get that. Kinda cute.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Was looking at the Wiki page for the MLB 2020 season. The additional playoff series, apparently called the Wild Card Series, is a best-of-three series to determine between the two best teams of each division. Then the Division, Championship, and World, Series proceed as normal.

    Regular season ends in September (as usual), so I assume the postseason games will be in October (also as usual). The extra series might make them run into November (which isn’t that usual).

    (Looking at that Wiki page… there actually are a lot of things to talk about, so I may have further posts despite the short season. Certainly will if the Twins do especially good. Or bad but I’m not expecting that looking at this year’s team.)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Glad you got your fix back!

    I’m not sure how I feel about the computer generated fans. It seems a bit creepy. But I’m not a fan, so my opinion here doesn’t matter.

    Do they add any simulated cheering?

    BTW, just had the post not show up in the Reader thing again. I unpublished the 10th post back and re-published it, and the new post showed up! So now I just need to remember to always check the Reader (which I’ve mostly been doing anyway) and generate another publish event if it doesn’t.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Sounds like your timing theory was correct!

      Yeah, they pipe in cheering — kinda like the laugh track on TV comedies.

      The CGI fans are a bit eerie. They actually kinda react to home runs and stuff. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue to improve that system. Could we ever get to the point I’ve seen in some movies where the simulated crowd consists of live fan images? We seem headed that way.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Maybe it’ll eventually get to the point where the fans are Zoomed in, so that individual fan reactions can be shown. If you do that, the cheering could be based on actual feedback. Although I could see hackers trying to subvert the system.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        What if COVID never really goes away, and that’s the sports of the future! 😮

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Some of the sports I’ve watched before on ESPN didn’t seem to have much of an audience, or they didn’t have the same presence as the ones in ballgames. I’m thinking of things like poker tournaments, strongman competitions, or billiards playoffs. I personally didn’t miss them that much, but I’m not much of a sports fan, so I may well be missing the appeal.

        That said, based on what I’m hearing, the prospects for a vaccine are looking good. Although it might be mid or late 2021 before enough of the population has had them to make large crowds safe again.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Some sports (poker, billiards, bowling, golf, etc) have more respectful and quiet audiences than others (football, baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey, etc). Some of that is different tones in both the sport and the crowd, but some of it is just sheer size — the really popular sports tend to be more rowdy. (Sport bars tend to be noisy places.)

        And then there are chess tournaments… 🙂

        “That said, based on what I’m hearing, the prospects for a vaccine are looking good.”

        And then there’s getting enough people to actually take the vaccine…

        (I keep hoping for an Andromeda Strain scenario — the virus mutates and becomes harmless.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        True on getting people to take the vaccine. At least those of us who aren’t ideological idiots would be protected.

        The problem with mutating into something harmless is that wouldn’t remove all the non-mutated ones in circulation. I did see something recently that antibodies left from the common cold might be why many people are only mildly affected, but it was pretty speculative.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Twins are 10-2 (.833) as of tonight, which is the best 12-game start in franchise history. Gonna be interesting to see if this is just a great start or the way this team is. Fan expected them to be good this year. Nice to not be disappointed!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Twins finally lost a game — had to happen eventually.

    So now they’re 10-3. Kinda symmetrical. Going into today’s game, Twins were 10-2 and the Pirates were 2-10 (poor Bucks!). Still symmetrical: Twins are 10-3, and the Buccaneers are 3-10. (I felt bad for them. We’d beat them three times already.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Lost again, but to the Royals, last night. Two losses in a row isn’t a concern, but the way the team has played the last two games does concern me just slightly. Batting averages in the lineup aren’t what I’d like to see. Hopefully this is just a minor dip (not even a slump).

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