CHICAGO – It was the ears as much as the eyes that brought the most surprise on this unusual day.
Never was so much sound from a Major League Baseball so clear as it was on April 29, 2015 at Camden Yards.
The crack of the bat, which you can hear in a full stadium, was completely clear on the broadcast as it echoed around the stadium. You could hear the player in the dugouts clap and cheer throughout the entire game.
That’s what I noticed on television watching the Orioles and White Sox play on that day in Baltimore, but the few in attendance caught others things.
Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun Times, who covered the game that day, had this memory of hearing game broadcasters from their booths during the contest. From center field, where the gates were open, a few faint cheers could be heard from those fans standing outside the gates of the park.
This was the rarest of rare days for baseball – a game without fans. The decision was made to keep them away after days of civil unrest in Baltimore after the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray following his arrest by police.
It was believed to be the first game ever played with no fans in attendance, and the Orioles won it 8-2 over the White Sox. It was the only one of a three-game series that ended up being played, with the first two outright postponed due to the unrest.
It was an eerie afternoon of baseball for those just watching the game on television, and probably even more for those who played in it and covered the fanless contest. That seemed like an incredible anomoly which would occur only on the rarest occasions.
Five years to the day, it could become the only way the game returns in 2020.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, the only way to get the season going once its declared safe for the players to take the field may be without fans. Big crowds could mean a big spread of the virus, so its unlikely that any league is going to take that chance till the end of the year at the earliest.
Empty stadiums, most likely, will be the start of a return to “normal” for the MLB with realigned divisions by June, per a report by Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Many have wondered how this will look, how it might impact the game and the overall experience for the players along with the fans. At least it’s baseball, but without spectators, does enough of the experience disappear that it takes away from it?
That’s tough to tell in a changing pandemic world. Keeping people safe is priority number one, and if this is the best way to get that done in 2020 and provide the distraction sports can bring, then it’s worth it.
But if you want to get a sense of what could be ahead, you only have to look back five years to see it, when an anomaly gave a glimpse of a new sports reality in 2020.