Dear Future Person,
Sure, I know why you’re here. You want to know what happened on April 29, 2015 – long before you were born – and how one game of baseball changed everything.
(But, before we get to that, let me tell you that I’m delighted that you still have, and enjoy, baseball in your world. We fans never believed the annoying naysayers who insisted the sport was dying. We knew they were idiots wrong. And, I’m also really proud of you for finally outlawing football at all levels because of the well-documented, long-term damage it does to players. Well done, Future World!)
We knew the game on April 29 would be historic before it even started. We just had no idea how historic it would be. And, how it would turn baseball on its head.
The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played to an empty stadium that day. It was the first time that no fans attended a major league game. Baltimore was in turmoil (probably similar to the unrest and turmoil you have in your own cities, as some things, sadly, don’t ever seem to change). For the safety of the community, the game was closed to the public.
To read news accounts, you’d think that it was a ghostly quiet game, seen by few. You’ll see “eerie” and “unsettling” used by a lot of reporters. Here are other words used in game day reports: “strange,” “eerie,” “surreal,” “hushed and surreal,” “uncomfortable,” “uniquely eerie,” “eerie and amusing,” “poignant,” “sad [and] lifeless,” “odd,” “eerily quiet,” “kind of eerie,” “eerily empty,” and “eerie.”
(Good job with the thesaurus, reporters.)
Let me clear up a few things. This game was seen by more people than would ordinarily watch an April baseball game on a Tuesday afternoon by two teams hovering around .500.
There was no room in the press box to handle the overflow of reporters who were clamoring to call the game “eerie.” There were cameras and announcers, same as always, sending the game out live on TV, streaming free on the Internet, and on radio. (Ask your grandparents to explain that radio part.)
The players enjoyed themselves.
O’s catcher Caleb Joseph having fun with imaginary fans.
People stood outside the ballpark peering through the gates or rented $300 suites at a nearby hotel to look down on the field.
It made the national news.
And, Saturday Night Live.
But, little did we know that the game would set into motion the greatest sea-change in 21st-century baseball – the end of fans in the bleachers.
I know this may sound strange (unsettling maybe, eerie, perhaps), but up until April 29, we fans thought we were indispensible. We cheered and chanted and carried on at games. We were certain that our cheers and boos could make a difference. We were the 10th man. Except we weren’t.
On April 29, we learned the truth. We were as disposable as a bag of stale sunflower seeds.
The game itself was pretty much like any other game.
The Orioles got off to such a fast 6-0 start in the first inning that I tweeted this.
Lots of O’s fans retweeted me. Because it was so, well, ridiculous.
The Orioles went on to win 8-2. Their usually unsettled starter Ubaldo Jimenez was eerily settled and dominating.
In the post-game press conference, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked: “Once the game started, how cognizant were you that there was nobody here?”
And, there was an awkward pause, a flustered and eerie silence, before Buck said, “That would be pretty self-incriminating. I can’t win answering that question.” And, then he said this, “It was still baseball between the lines.”
He wouldn’t admit it, but our absence hadn’t made a difference.
They hadn’t even noticed we were gone.
O’s first baseman Chris Davis tosses a ball … to no one.
As the 2015 season began, one of the big stories was how baseball needed to speed up its games. The average game in 2014 ran just over three hours.
The game without fans? Two hours and three minutes. An hour faster. Come to find out, we were the slow pokes.
Once owners and their accountants realized that they could play speedy games without fans and still turn a profit, our days were numbered.
We were downsized until we were gone.
And, that dear Future Person, is why there are no fans at your baseball games. Oh sure, the luxury suites are still there. Those were too lucrative to lose. But, no bleachers, no upper tiers, no lower tiers.
Just wide open empty space where foul balls and home runs collect like dust bunnies under a bed.
Chris Davis’ home run hit Eutaw Street. “Innings later, the ball was still just sitting there, unclaimed.” ~ SB Nation
Without us there are no piles of peanut shells and spilled beer to clean up. No drunk fights to break up. No fan, walloped with a foul ball he didn’t see coming, to bandage up.
We were more trouble than we were worth.
Future Person, you’ll never know how wonderful it is to gather up the family and spread out at a game. To fill up on peanuts and popcorn and French fries and cotton candy (do you even know what cotton candy is?). To yell at the umpires, cheer the mascot races, root for the home team, and heckle the other guy’s outfielders. To soak in the summer heat or, even better, the chill of October, from awesome seats on the first-base side. To catch a foul ball or a home run.
I’m glad you still have baseball, even if you must watch games from the safety of your techno-televisiony-hologram devices. At least you have something.
And, I’m glad that scientists figured out a way to ensure that Vin Scully still calls Dodger games, extending his baseball career for hundreds of years to come.
Oh, and I almost forgot, I’m glad you finally brought the DH to the National League. It shouldn’t have taken so long, but the National League can be stubborn sometimes, so really, good for you.
But, I’m sorry about the empty games.
There’s not much time left for fans, I guess. I hope we make the most of it.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray. 1751