Major League Baseball returned Friday and while it feels a little weird, it also feels right.
If you’re able to look past the rows of empty seats or the cardboard cutouts filling said seats, depending on the stadium, the game feels much the same as it always has.
Teams are pumping crowd noise directly into the stadium, so if you don’t pay attention to the seats with your eyes and focus just on the players and the sound, it’s hard to tell the difference. Teams reportedly have somebody in control of an iPad with the ability to make the crowd ooh and aah along with the action.
For the most part, the broadcasts went off like normal, even with broadcasters not sharing a booth and nobody going down onto the field to interview the players after the last out is made. Instead, a broadcaster remains up in the booth and conducts any interviews from there.
I watched all three St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts through Fox Sports Midwest over the weekend, and Friday and Saturday’s had little problems, save the third member of the team who would typically provide cutaway commentary or “sideline interviews” having some technical difficulties.
Sunday was a different story as the broadcast lost signal through parts of the game and the broadcasters had some sort of feedback on their audio that made them sound like they were underwater. So, not only was the game harder to watch because the Cardinals were behind and ended up losing that one, but it was harder to watch due to broadcast difficulties as well.
Sunday’s game had a few other quirks of the times we’re now living in. Cardinals fans got to see their first argument of the COVID-19 era as pitcher Derek Holland was ejected from the Pittsburgh Pirates bench for arguing balls and strikes during the Cardinals’ turn at the plate.
That brought Derek Shelton, the Pirates’ rookie manager, out of the dugout to argue with the referee. Even during arguments, managers and umpires are expected to remain 6 feet apart and wear a mask. This required the home plate umpire to fumble with his mask to get it over his mouth and nose as Shelton charged forth onto the field.
I can’t say with any certainty that they remained 6 feet apart or that the masks remained on all the way until the conclusion.
While we ultimately found out it had been Holland who was ejected, it wasn’t immediately clear as the umpire simply signaled to the Pirates’ bench for the ejection and for several minutes the broadcasters believed it was Shelton who had been tossed until he returned right back to his seat in the dugout as though nothing had happened, which prompted a few Bobby Valentine jokes.
Valentine famously attempted to return to the dugout after being ejected while disguised with a fake mustache and glasses while managing the New York Mets.
With everybody in the dugout wearing facial coverings, it could be possible for somebody to pull off such a move this season without being noticed.
As for the Cardinals themselves, the team brought a good amount of power on opening night with three home runs, a feat unmatched by any other team to open the season.
Another promising sign comes from the fact that two of those opening day home runs were hit by members of the Cardinals outfield. The team has been oft criticized for its lack of star power in the outfield after failing to re-sign slugger Marcell Ozuna in the offseason and opting to stick with the outfielders the team had in place instead of adding a new starter through trade or free agency.
Another positive was the pitching performance of Adam Wainwright in the second game as he limited the Pirates to one run in six innings, proving he still has some gas left in the tank at age 38.