Baseball is back. Millions of fan fingers remained crossed across the United States that it will actually happen. There won’t be games in Canada, at least for a while, since the Canadian government denied the Blue Jays the necessary approval to play in Toronto.
The Red Sox will fake plenty of noise when they begin their abbreviated 2020 season Friday at home against the Baltimore Orioles.
There will be no fans in attendance when play begins. But faux sound will fill Fenway Park. The audio hullabaloo consists of 75 different real reactions recorded over several seasons and used in the “MLB The Show” video game. We heard a prelude on NESN this past week.
Don’t be surprised if someone claims they heard a racist epithet or two hurled inside Fenway during the coming months. This is Boston. Evidence is perfunctory. Guilt is assured.
The 2020 Red Sox may be the first team ever to eject fans from an empty ballpark.
In addition to the pre-recorded reactions of non-existent patrons, there will be stadium announcements, video and walk-up music blaring across baseball.
Phony crowd clatter has been used by Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League and during Spring Training 2.0 games across the majors this month.
Silence may be compliance, or violence, or merely apathy.
When it comes to pro sports, particularly baseball at Fenway Park, silence isn’t golden.
There are plans to put microphones on players. There’s a healthy amount of in-game chatter and trash talk in various languages that often includes words not suitable for NESN’s fragile audience. You won’t hear any of that unless someone misses the cutoff button.
Last winter, many assumed Fenway Park would be empty and silent by August. But that was due to the lack of pitching and loss of Mookie Betts.
These Red Sox should still be alive and well mathematically come Labor Day.
Another pleasant surprise.
Baseball purists and coronavirus have done much to diminish the legitimacy of this 60-game campaign. When it’s over, you will see more asterisks than Ford Frick could have ever imagined. Baseball, its owners and players deserve much credit for making it this far – and for beating the NHL and NBA out of the post-apocalypse starting gate.
Far fewer players have opted out of the season than the self-anointed BBWAA experts predicted. MLB players have been thus far spared from the latest surge in positive test results that has swept across much of the nation.
Baseball received rare good news on Friday. MLB said just five players and one staff member tested positive for coronavirus from 10,548 tests performed in the previous week for a positivity rate of 0.05%. That included a five-day period in which no positive test results were reported. Overall, 80 MLB players and 13 coaches/staff members tested positive out of 21,701 tests performed through Friday. That is 0.4% overall positivity rate, well below the national average of 9%.
No need to apologize if the data makes you feel good, even with the necessary caveats of potential dread.
There are ways to watch the games at Fenway Park — almost — live in person.
Lansdowne Street will morph into a socially-distanced pedestrian zone, providing outdoor seating for diners, during games. Restaurant owners are working with the city to get approval for large outdoor TV screens. There also will be in-person viewing available for those lucky few who can sang a seat at the Bleacher Bar beneath the ballpark. It offers a peek inside Fenway through a fence in right-center field.
The fans on Lansdowne Street will be closer to home plate than the announcers and analysts for NESN. Dave O’Brien, Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley will call all 55 home and away games aired on the network from its upscale studio in Watertown. The other Red Sox games will air on Fox Sports or ESPN.
For a $500 donation to the Red Sox Foundation, fans can have their likeness loom over left field from the Green Monster seats in the form of a 20×30-inch photo cutout. You win a prize if your photo is hit by a home run. There is no limit on how many cutouts can be ejected.
They might end up leaping off the Monster if the Red Sox pitching lives down to expectations.
Ryan Weber, Martin Perez, Matt Hall, Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs, Josh Osich, Colten Brewer, Marcus Walden and Austin Brice.
Those are not the names of the talented first-shift crew working the McDonald’s in Kenmore Square. They are, instead, some of the pitchers who will likely be on the Red Sox roster come Friday. Eduardo Rodriguez is out with coronavirus and Chris Sale is out with Tommy John surgery.
Nathan Eovaldi will anchor the rotation and entire season if/until Rodriguez is healthy enough to return.
With only three-score games before the playoffs, this season should offer more surprises in its outcome than most. One needs to look no further than last year to find a World Series Champion – the Washington Nationals – that would have not qualified for the playoffs if the season ended at 60 games.
We’ve lost enough of what makes summer special in New England and elsewhere in 2020. At least give us the Red Sox, complete with the most underwhelming Opening Day pitching staff this side of Bobby Valentine.
The arrival of a pseudo-baseball season offers mental deliverance. A built-in diversion of three-plus hours nightly to silence the nonstop drumbeat of politics, pandemic and protest has grown more necessary with each news cycle. Many in the Blue Check Twitterati loathe to read such things. Those exploiting the current state of affairs demand perpetual adherence to panic, fear, anger and despair every day.
Perhaps the return of baseball is a diminutive indication their day has finally begun to wane.
So, go ahead.
Make some noise.
We won’t complain.
Bill Speros (@RealOBF) can be reached at [email protected]