Baseball is back at Coca-Cola Park! Well, kinda. The Phillies non-roster players have taken up residency at the Ironpigs stadium and are running scrimmages that are partially open to season ticket holders.
The scrimmage itself is nothing worth reporting on. A couple dozen minor leaguers with less of a compete level than your local tee-ball league simulating a five-inning contest with no rules to speak of. The environment was the most interesting part.
If you’re watching sports in TV, chances are much hasn’t changed. There is no visible crowd, but with the piped in cheers and announcers still dominating the sound, the overall experience has remained very similar.
Live, however, things were very different. Now, this was a very controlled environment, open to only a handful of season ticket holders per game, only allowing four per party. There were only four sections open with at least four rows separating the groups. The sections were split with a black band you’d find at a bank that’s used to form lines. There couldn’t have been more than 100 fans in attendance with maybe a couple dozen staff members.
Entering the stadium was the same. Masks were required at all times, all the tickets were virtual and accessible from the app, and you could still enter the clubhouse store as normal. Once you were in your seat you stayed put. Food orders were placed with an app and were delivered by a staff member.
The silence was noticeable. There weren’t many fans, the announcer guy must’ve taken the day off, and it led to a cavernous silence. A few kids were banging empty bottles on the seats trying to get a chant going, but it was mainly still. No excitement, no white crowd noise, no announcer calling the names of batters, no walk up music or Ric Flair WOO’s, nothing. An eerie silence of a usually loud and boisterous environment.
Who knows if the 2021 season will be impacted by coronavirus. At this rate it sure seems like it, and that paints a grim outlook for minor league teams across all sports, who rely heavily on live gates for most of their financial income. This was on a small scale as a “thank you” to season ticket holders who didn’t bail on the team during these trying times. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have hinted at a similar reality to their season ticket holders, potentially using a socially distanced approach to have fans in the building during the season if it’s deemed safe. A seemingly small, nothing happening, courtesy scrimmage could be an early trial of what’s to come in the sports world. Smaller groups of live fans wrangled by apps and staff members to keep everyone as safe as possible while returning to the sports we love.
Being back at a baseball stadium for the first time in almost a full calendar year felt so refreshing, so normal, though taking a look around, it brought the crashing reality of the situation we find ourselves in. On the bright side, if they were given the green light they could at least triple the attendance to a couple hundred if they opened the whole stadium up to fans through socially distanced means. Bring back the announcer, walk up music, and crowd teasers like wooing and telling fans to clap could go a long way to making the noticeable emptiness fade away and the sport stand out. For now it’s all just theoretical, but getting a glimpse into what may become the norm, at least in the short term, felt like something everybody should be excited about as we all wish to return to normal life.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)