As We Peer Deeper Through the Looking Glass, MLB is Proposing Pumping Fake Crowd Noise into Empty Ballparks

Just when I think 2020 can’t get any crazier, someone ups the ante and takes us further through the proverbial looking glass.

Or, as the Cheshire Cat would say, “When the day becomes the night and the sky becomes the sea, When the clock strikes heavy and there’s no time for tea. And in our darkest hour, before my final rhyme, she will come back home to Wonderland and turn back the hands of time.”

The latest attempt at fake normalcy and turning back the hands of time in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, comes courtesy of a report by the Associated Press that Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to pump fake crowd noise into empty ballparks during their shortened season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.

I get that athletes are used to crowd noise, and viewers are used to hearing noise when they watch a game, but using fake noise in empty Ballparks is something that even the Mad Hatter would call crazy.

The crowd noise will come courtesy of the video game MLB The Show. According to MLB, sound engineers will have around 75 different effects and reactions to choose from as they try to set the mood like a Ballpark Barry White.

MLB wants to pump fake crowd noise from a video game into empty ballparks during their shortened 2020 season to give the players and viewers an authentic game experience.
Photo R. Anderson

To use a television analogy for the completely made for TV event that the 2020 MLB season has become, instead of filming games in front of a live studio audience, MLB is going to use the equivalent of a laugh track.

Come to think of it, a laugh track is exactly what the 2020 MLB season needs since it is completely laughable that the season is taking place to begin with.

But, if the MLB season must take place in the middle of a pandemic, silent grandstands would be a much better approach to show that this is not just any other season.

Just picture getting to hear the sound of the pitch hitting the back of the catcher’s glove along with the communication between players on the field. That would be so much better than hoping the Ballpark sound engineer selects the correct sound out of the 75 they can choose from.

By choosing the route of fake noise, MLB is missing the chance to allow viewers to hear the action in a way they have never heard before, and hopefully never will again. Ballparks so silent you can hear a trash can bang would truly be something magical.

Sadly, MLB is not the only sports league using video game soundtracks to set the scene. England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga returned to the pitch with crowd sounds from EA Sports’ FIFA video game franchise.

The NBA is also considering pumping in the Jock Jams crowd noise when it resumes play in the Walt Disney World ESPN Wide World of Sports Bubble.

Pumping in canned noise gives the appearance of, “move along, nothing to see here” instead of allowing the silence of the event to show that we are in uncharted territory. I mean, are they going to fill the stands with stuffed animals, or cardboard cutouts, as well, like the KBO League in South Korea is doing to avoid the look of empty seats on television?

It is almost like the sports leagues pumping in the fake noise are afraid that if the games included silence people would realize that there are more important things to focus on right now.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century. I am not saying that we all need to run around in misery with ash on our bodies like the biblical story of Job, but this rush to reopen everything, and just wish a virus away is not working.

One cannot just pump in crowd noise, and fill the seats with life sized Hello Kitty dolls, and pretend that we are not in the middle of one of the biggest crises in over a century.
Photo R. Anderson

Also, from a journalistic ethics perspective, using fake noise on the broadcasts is right up there with the disturbing trend of broadcasters super imposing advertising on Ballpark elements to get more revenue.

Real life does not happen in front of a green screen. A sports broadcast should give the viewer the exact look that a person in the venue would see and hear. Fake sounds and ads blur the lines, and could lead to a point where reality is distorted in the name of making a buck.

While I know that a sports broadcast falls under “entertainment” and does not always adhere to the same high ethical standards that a news broadcast would, ethics still need to be maintained so that the audience can have confidence that what they are seeing is reality and not a revenue stream centered alternative reality.

To take the through the looking glass analogy further, we are becoming a nation that is not only deeply divided on political issues, but the very response to COVID-19 is divided between those who are taking the virus seriously, and those who have gone through the looking glass and are playing chess with the Queen of Hearts while saying, “Off with their heads, and try the beans they’re delicious.”

COVID-19 does not give a hill of beans about people ignoring it, and trying to hope it away. The only thing that is going to defeat this virus is to starve it of fuel in the form of people it can infect. That involves closing things down, and to use the video game analogy, hitting the reset button.

COVID-19 is spreading like a nationwide wildfire. Some people are putting water on it and controlling it by wearing masks and socially distancing to starve it of fuel.

As MLB plows full speed ahead with trying to have a 2020 season like someone trying to win a perverse bet, Austin Meadows of the Tampa Bay Rays became the latest player to test positive for COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other people are saying, “look at the pretty flames,” or worse saying “fake flames” as they play their fiddle and call the virus a hoax.

The entire MLB season falls into the look at the pretty flames category. There is zero reason that an MLB season needs to be played this year aside from owner’s greed, and a misguided desire to make everything seem normal as the world burns.

It would be great for MLB to show that the season is not a giant cash grab by donating all revenue to essential workers who are the real heroes in the middle of this pandemic.

I highly doubt that MLB would do that, but if they did, that would be something I would support in terms of pushing forward with the season. I will not support pumping in fake crowd noise, however.

As 2020 continues to roll forward, one can take some solace in the fact that the year is closer to the end than it is to the beginning. However, based on the lack of coordinated action to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little solace that 2021 will be any better than 2020 if we stay on our current course.

I say that not as a fatalist with my head stuck in the sand, or as someone detached from the reality while standing behind a podium between two trucks.

Instead, I say it as an optimist who sees a path to turning things around and still believes that Americans will realize we are in this together and that masks and social distancing save lives. And, that is not just pumping in fake noise, that is the reality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ask Alice if she can make any sense of this at all.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 1

For the past five years, I have traveled an average of one to two weeks a month. During this time, I saw a lot of hotel rooms, drove a lot of rental cars, and most impressively I mastered the art of snagging a coveted aisle seat close to the front of a completely full Southwest Airlines flight. On those rare occasions when the seat next to me on the flight was empty, I felt like I had won the lottery as I crisscrossed North America during the carefree days before COVID-19.

Over a five-year span I logged a lot of miles in blue planes just like this one.
Photo R. Anderson

Many of those trips involved visits to Ballparks and other sporting venues. I saw Major League games at Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, Tropicana Field and Coors Field. I caught Minor League games in Colorado Springs and Port Charlotte, among other places.

For good measure, I even visited four hockey arenas. While Coolio sang of living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise,” I was truly spending most my time living in a sports fan paradise.

The era of the non-retractable roof Ballpark as fallen out of fashion in recent years. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is truly the last of its kind. Based on historically low attendance some might argue that the Trop was the first Ballpark to engage in social distancing.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that carefree ability to cram into full arenas, full ballparks, and even full blue Boeing 737s, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

Large gatherings of people at sporting events would be the perfect storm for community spread of the virus. So out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to congregate for a while once the sports world reopens.

I can totally respect that since, a) I really don’t feel like getting sick just so I can see a game in person, and b) drinking Dr Pepper with a straw through a hole in my officially licensed MLB face covering does not sound like fun.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX has a scoreboard that reminds people what state they are in. This can be helpful for fans who become disoriented from the heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigaplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

My Bucket list of Ballparks I wanted to visit was already pretty extensive. However, as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see when the world reopens.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

For the first installment of our series, I have chosen to look at the five Ballparks I want to see again. While I will always enjoy finding new Ballparks to visit, I also enjoy returning to some old favorites. The five Ballparks on this list are ones that I would visit for every game if I had the chance.

Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX

A mascot with a water gun is the perfect combo for baseball in triple degree heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Located just a smidge too far away from the gigaplex for me to be a season ticket holder, Constellation Field plays home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

With reasonable prices on tickets, food, and souvenirs, a game inside Constellation Field won’t break most piggy banks. The action on the field is exciting, and the mid-inning promotions staff provides the usual Minor League Baseball standards to keep the fans entertained.

I do take issue with the team getting rid of the carousel in Center Field a few years ago, but aside from that, this little ballpark is pretty much perfect for catching a game. The Ballpark is in Texas so it does get hot during day games in the summer, but there are thankfully ways to stay cool including a splash pad and air conditioned areas.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Though it is criticized by many, I find Tropicana Field to be a pleasant place to catch a game while also feeding some wildlife.
Photo R. Anderson

Tropicana Field gets a lot of flak from a lot of people. They complain about the location of the facility as well as the fact that it is one of the last of the multi use large domes that once dotted the sports landscape from coast to coast.

While domes in Houston, Seattle, and Minnesota have given way to single use baseball fields, courtesy of the Ballpark renaissance kicked off by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field stands as a reminder of what a certain era of Ballpark design looked like. While the Trop has haters, I actually like the Ballpark. It was one of the first facilities to allow people to bring in their own food and also offers an unlimited refill policy on soft drinks.

Paying tribute to the days when the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Devil Rays, there is even a Ray touch and feeding tank in center field. Plus, it is hard to beat catching a game in air-conditioned comfort and staying dry during those hot and wet Florida summers that last from March to November.

Coors Field, Denver, CO

During my lone trip to Coors Field I hit a triple with a Pepsi, a hot dog, and a bobblehead.
Photo R. Anderson

Next up is Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I have only had the pleasure of attending one game at this Ballpark. It was a day game during a Colorado heat wave and the vendors were selling equal amounts of beverages and sunscreen.

From what I could see through my sun screen irritated eyes, the Ballpark has a lot to offer. The game I attended included a bobblehead giveaway, as well as a race between people dressed up as the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Not too shabby.

Coors Field made the list, based on my desire to catch a night game at the Ballpark and to have time to explore more of the amenities without feeling like I was every bit of a mile closer to the surface of the sun.

Dr Pepper Ballpark, Frisco, TX

Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX is a great venue to catch a game, just try to avoid day games in August.
Photo R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Ballpark is home of the Frisco Rough Riders, who are the Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It has been several years since I made the drive up to the Ballpark located in a suburb of Dallas, but it is a drive well rough making.

The Ballpark features bullpens that are surrounded by seats so fans can really get a close look at the pitchers warming up. The facility also includes a lazy river and a pool, which is perfect for the sweltering heat that the Dallas Metroplex is famous for.

One major plus of Dr Pepper Ballpark, is the availability to have a cold and refreshing Dr Pepper. I am sure there are people who do not mind Pibb Xtra, but for me it has to be Dr Pepper. With the headquarters for Dr Pepper being located next door in Plano, TX, I feel pretty confident that the Ballpark will keep serving Dr Pepper for years to come.

Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola, FL

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and has a waterfront view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Blue Wahoos Stadium is home to the Blue Wahoos, a Class Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Ballpark is one of my favorites for many reasons. The location right on the bay is hard to beat.

The concessions are top notch. The Ballpark itself is beautiful and has been named best ballpark in the country by numerous outlets, including being a three-time recipient of the Southern League Ballpark of the Year award. The Ballpark is the smallest facility in the Southern League and this creates an intimate fan experience.

I try to visit Pensacola as often as I can. When the world reopens, and it is safe to move about the country once again, Pensacola will be one of the first trips that I make. Southern League Baseball has always been my favorite league since catching Orlando Sun Rays games with my mom at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Blue Wahoos allow me to keep that tradition alive once every other year or so.

These five Ballparks are definitely places I would go to again and again. There are other Ballparks that I could have included as well on my list of places I love catching a game at. Be sure to return Friday when I will reveal the five venues that I want to visit for the first time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Ballparks has me craving a hot dog and some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

NASCAR Provides First Look at What the Return of Sports Could Look Like as Other Sports Sit Impatiently in Neutral

Brad Keselowski started on the pole on May 17, 2020 when NASCAR returned to live racing after a nearly two month hiatus.
photo R. Anderson

When the history books are written to describe the era of COVID-19, it is likely that yesterday, May 17, 2020, will be remembered as the day that sports returned to America.

Okay, to be fair, all sports did not return yesterday. Declaring the “all clear, come and play ball y’all” is likely months away from occurring. Factor in a return to wide open, stadium rockin’ sports as they were prior to March 2020, and some experts say that could be a year or more away.

Still, yesterday will be remembered as the day that NASCAR told their drivers to start their engines, and the fans to stay home and watch. It is easy to see how NASCAR was the first sport to draw up a game plan for a return to competition.

Kyle Busch is set to run seven races in 11 days in all three NASCAR series as part of the sport’s return to live competition.
photo R. Anderson

Drivers sit alone in their 3,000 plus pound octane 93 fueled chariots. So, even during rubbing and bump draftin’, social distancing can be maintained.

Throw in helmets, and protective gear for the pit crew members, and you have yourself a ready-made example of responsible sport in the COVID-19 era. At least that is how the plan is supposed to work.

While social distancing works in NASCAR, other sports leagues will find it harder to show that the athletes are separated by the recommended Center for Diseases Control (CDC) guidelines of six feet of separation. The next sport on the clock to try to return a fan-free viewing experience to the world is Major League Baseball.

Baseball has already returned in South Korea where the season opened in empty ballparks, followed by ballparks allowing up to 1,000 fans to attend from a safe social distance.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where Major League Baseball says the first 1,000 people to the ballpark are allowed inside. It is safer to say, that the only people sitting in the stands for the foreseeable future whenever baseball does return will be team employees.

While no exact timeline has been established for the return of baseball, when it does return it is likely that the pregame lineup exchange at home plate will be eliminated.
photo R. Anderson

I have said this before, and it bears repeating, I miss baseball. However, I do not miss baseball to the point that I want to see players, umpires, and other team personnel put at undue risk of exposure to a virus that currently has no cure just so I can have a few hours of live sports during my work from home time.

Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award-Winning pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, made waves when he commented on his Twitch channel last week that playing an abbreviated baseball season with a pay cut was not worth the risk to his health for future seasons. Based on estimates of the proposals being negotiated between MLB management and the player’s union, Snell would earn around $2.3 million instead of $7 million in salary for playing what would amount to at best an 82-game season.

To be fair, athletes risk injury every time they take the field. However, one can certainly argue that risking your pitching arm and needing to miss a season because you are recovering from Tommy John surgery is entirely different than risking your health because of a virus.

Snell’s candid assessment of needing to look at his life after this season, versus playing this year and risking his health, drew the usual round of negative comments with people calling him “entitled,” and that he should just “shut up and play.”

After Blake Snell drew criticism for voicing concerns about returning to play baseball, fellow All-Star Bryce Harper noted that Snell made public feelings that many players are pondering in private in regards to the risk of playing baseball too soon to their long-term health.
photo R. Anderson

A pair of All-Stars, in Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado, came to Snell’s defense by noting that Snell went public with what many players are thinking in private related to needing to look long and hard at the risks associated with returning to play baseball this year.

As part of a return to the ballpark plan reported by ESPN, players and all other people involved in the games would be tested for the COVID-19 virus several times a week to allow any potential outbreak to be snuffed out at the source. Under the plan to mitigate the spread of the virus , according to the ESPN report, players, would also be banned by fist bumping, high fiving, and spitting.

However, it is unknown whether players will still be allowed to bang on trash cans in the dugout. Too soon Astros fans?

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play the National Pastime once more. Any return to play scenario needs to allow players to choose whether they want to return, or if they are willing to forfeit their salary in order to focus on their health for future seasons.

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play ball once more.
photo R. Anderson

Assuming that MLB does the right thing and allows players to choose to sit out the season, that creates the question of why not just wait until next year to play at all.

Can an 82-game season with some of the top players on each team choosing to not play really be considered legitimate?

Of course, the answer, as it usually does, centers on money. Even without fans in the stands team owners and broadcast networks can make money on games.

Another footnote in the year of COVID-19 history book should not only include the day live major sports returned with NASCAR, but should also include the day that the MLB potentially chose finances over safety. Of course, that financial risk versus personal risk calculus is being performed across the globe as multiple industries look to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.

Millionaire baseball players aren’t the only ones who will need to perform a risk trade when it comes to returning to work. Employers at all levels need to be sensitive to the concerns raised by workers, and where possible accommodations need to be made to protect both their health and their jobs.

I miss going to see Swatson and the rest of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I look forward to a time when I am once again watching them from inside the ballpark.
photo R. Anderson

I am eternally grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store who bring my order out to my car and allow me the opportunity to stay safely socially distanced. Too often, some elements of society look down on workers in retail, transportation, healthcare and hospitality.

Society owes a huge debt to all of the people on the front lines. When the pandemic is over, the people who kept us safe, fed, and tended to health-wise, should be the first ones allowed inside the sporting venues as a show of thanks from a grateful nation.

Until then, sports leagues need to temper their enthusiasm for returning to play. We all miss sports. However, it would just take the death of one player to show that the risk was not worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my work from home fury coworkers are meowing for some kibble.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson