As you know, the Orioles and White Sox will be playing a game today in front of an empty stadium due to the recent events in Baltimore, with only themselves, journalists, and a skeleton crew of ballpark workers there to see it in person.
While of course the first thoughts should be for everyone in Baltimore in light of the unrest (whether peaceful protest or the violent riots that occurred on Monday), it should be noted that this unusual zero-attendance game will provide a unique look at baseball.
Now, I have, of course by definition, never been to a game with no attendance. But I have been to games that have been very close, with perhaps only a hundred or more fans there, tops. Go to a minor league game on a cold night with a chance of rain and you’ll have a chance to see it (as I have at times), or go to one of the lowest minor leagues, where they play games in large Spring Training facilities in front of crowds far, far smaller than the ballpark is meant to.
It is, in a word that will be said many times today: surreal.
For one thing, there is the fact that almost everything in the stadium is closed. Maybe one or two food stands will be open for the few fans who are there (this won’t be the case for the Orioles game today), and maybe you might still one or two vendors walking around hawking beer, but in general, it is a morgue outside of the seating bowl. They might not even turn on the TVs to show the game to anybody down below.
And yet, much of what the stadium’s PA system and video board play remain the same. They’ll flash out the birthday messages meant for people who probably left during the rain delay in the third innings, they’ll play walk-up music that echoes through the empty stands, they’ll give “fan of the game” awards to people who normally never get the awards because their seats are too expensive, and the mascots are able to give a good chunk of time to every kid in the crowd. Individually.
And, above all else, you can hear almost everything said above a conversational tone. You can hear the players actually call out “I got it, I got it,” and hear them swear after they do something wrong. I don’t know if the mics in Baltimore will be good enough to pick stuff like that up, but if they can, it’ll be a treat (and also NSFW).
Lastly, if it’s possible, baseball with little to no fans there is most definitely connoisseur’s experience. The few people there most definitely want to be there. There are no casual fans. And that is an almost zen-like experience.