We may not be playing baseball quite yet in the States, but Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League, which has four teams, has thrown up their first pitch, called their first "Batter Up!" But because they are socially and healthily conscious, their teams are playing to empty stadiums.
It must be decidedly odd for ball players - even those who play for crappy teams that don't attract a lot of fans - to play to an empty house. From my own limited experience, I know that performing before a non-crowd can be unnerving. My one instance was a presentation I was supposed to give at a trade show, held in the middle of winter in Chicago. Now holding a trade show in the middle of winter in Chicago may not be the wisest thing on the face of the earth, but my company was game. So off I went with my PowerPoint preso, all geared up to talk about automated software testing. (Twenty-plus years later, I just stifled a yawn...)
Not that the topic was a big draw, but a reasonable number of folks had signed up for my session. Alas, the weather outside was frightful, which gave plenty of the potential attendees an excellent excuse to skip the show entirely - or at least stay snuggled all safe in their beds until later in the day.
Anyway, two people came to my preso, and I really felt ridiculous standing up there on stage, miked up and holding a clicker to advance my slides.
So I took off the mike, put away the clicker, and went and sat down with the two brave attendees who'd stood up to the elements to talk software testing methods. (Still stifling that yawn...)
So in my own modest little way, I know that it's really hard to perform when there's no audience.
But the Rakuten Monkeys wanted something there, so they've
put some mannequins in the stands, and they're even sporting Rakuten gear. Go, Monkeys! While they don't look all that excited to be there, it does appear that they're at least enough into the game to partcipate in a one-armed wave.
Dummies, especially ones as lifelike as these fans, can be expensive. So the Monkeys are augmenting the crowd with cardboard cutouts. They may not be practicing social distancing, but they are wearing masks. As for fandom, they're also wearing the colors, carrying signs - presumably urging the Monkeys on - and carrying those fun noisemaking sticks. Shake, rattle and roll, folks! Or non-folks.
I do have to wonder what happens when there's a rain delay. After the groundskeepers spread the tarp over the infield, do they head into the stands to collect the cardboard cutouts? Or do they drape clear plastic ponchos over them so they can sit the delay out?
Unfortunately, cardboard shakers don't make much noise, and noise is such an important part of a ball game. At Fenway, the noise is a combo of fans yelling, the organ played by Josh Kantor, and other music: clips from whatever the players pick as their walk on song; tunes by the Dropkick Murphys; the eighth inning "Sweet Caroline" singalong; and - if the Sox win - "Love that Dirty Water."
Not sure what they generally do for music in Taiwan, but the Rakuten team has installed some robots to beat the drums for their team.
Alas, in the first game where the real fake crowd was deployed, it was all for nought, as the Monkeys lost in extra innings to the Chinatrust Brothers. (The game went 4 hours-plus: and I thought Red Sox-Yankees games went long.)
I can't help but think that there's something missing.
Where's the loud-mouth drunk who's rooting for the other guys and who is, invariably, sitting right behind me. And screaming in my ear?
Where's the other crazy but not drunk guy who's sitting beside him. Two of my favorites: At a game against the White Sox during the year the White Sox had brought back a ridiculous retro uniform that, as I recall, featured squared off hats and some type of baggy capri pants, there was a guy screaming "Put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits" at the White Sox players throughout the game. Huh?
And another favorite: With good, opposing team side, box seats for a game against the Indians, there was the guy who would not stop bellowing at the Indian players, "Go back to the Windy City!" Huh and huh? Screaming "Put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits" would have made just as much sense.
Where's the quiet guy sitting next to me wearing a baseball cap with a cloth penis protuding from the crown? And what's that about? Conversation starter? Way to meet girls? Guess not, he's always at the game alone. The protuding penis does make for a nice forewarning, however. Don't make eye contact!
Where's the jerk being tossed out for reaching into the field of play and interfering with the game by grabbing for a live ball?
Where are the drunks in the bleachers being frog-marched out by security or - better yet - Boston PD?
Where are the hotties for the guys in the bullpen to ogle?
Where are the fans blowing up beachballs so that they can start tossing them around in the stands, making me miss, miss, miss Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley who would use the bullpen rake to stab and deflate any beachballs that wafted into his space.
Where's the guy at the end of the row who has to go out for a beer or to take a leak at least once an inning, and who always manages to block a good play?
And speaking of blocking a good play, where are the boobs who start a wave when the Sox are up in a tight game with men on base? How many times do I have to tell them that if they must cretinously persist with the wave, they shouldn't be starting it off when the Red Sox are at bat?
Where are the Sports Bar vendors? The peanut vendors who can hurl a bag of peanuts 20 rows up? Of course, they're not there because cardboard cutouts, dummies, and robots don't consume any Sports Bars or peanuts.
It's not all god-awful with fans in the stands.
Where's the sweet family taking their kids to their first game? Where's the nice out-of-towners who are surprised that Bostonians can be nice? Where's the middle aged guy there with his ancient dad? Where are the kids selling the 20-20 raffle tickets? (And how come I never win? My cousin Ellen won big money at a Cubs game, and she doesn't even like baseball.)
Where's everyone standing and screaming when one of our guys hits a dinger? Or makes a great catch? Or when there's an outrageously bad call? Or that most excellent of baseball occurrences: a bench-clearing brawl.
I miss baseball terribly, and I'm looking forward to its return - even if, as is speculated, the teams will be plenty in empty stadiums. But what a weird and eerie experience it will be watching one of those empty stands games. Makes me wonder whether the Rakuten Monkeys don't have the right idea. Forget the drum-playing robots. (Have Josh Kantor on the organ instaed.) But by all means bring in the cardboard cutouts! Baseball for dummies!
Just play ball!
Thanks to my brother-in-law Rick for sending this one my way.