In lieu of fans, creative cutouts dot ballparks during pandemic baseball

When the Orioles play in Philadelphia this week, they need to check out a humorous piece of baseball history in section 302V, Row 21, Seat 1.

Tip: Use binoculars because the seat is high above right field, likely the worst seat at Citizens Bank Park. The seat is where the Phillies have a cutout of Bob Uecker, the Brewers' Hall of Fame radio broadcaster who was a catcher for the 1966 Phillies and made a famous commercial for Miller Lite during the 1980s.

In the commercial, Uecker gets ready to sit in an expensive first-deck box as an usher informs him he's in the wrong seat. "I must be in the front row,'' Uecker boasts before he's moved to a seat at the top of the ballpark.

In a season of pandemic baseball, fans aren't allowed to attend games, but teams are looking for ways to make the ballpark experience more real for their players and for the fans watching the games on television.

Hence, the cutouts.

In lieu of going to the game, teams allow fans a chance to have at least their picture on a cutout sitting in the yard.

Teams promote cutouts - at anywhere from $30 to $100 a picture - to raise money for charity.

And there are creative twists aplenty.

The Royals have had cutouts behind home plate of "Star Wars" character R2-D-2, his silver and blue domed head gazing at the field, as well as quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory in 2020.

The Mets have a cutout of former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones at Citi Field. Mets fans at the old ballpark, Shea Stadium, used to torment Jones with chants of his real name, "Larrrrry, Larrrrry.''

The Twins have cutouts of their legendary players - including Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Johan Santana - sitting behind home plate.

Watch the Dodgers from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and you're likely to see former NBA star Magic Johnson, country singer Brad Paisley or rapper Daddy Yankee in cutout form.

Outfielder Juan Soto was sidelined at the start of the season, but when he returned to the Nationals, there were cutouts of family members sitting behind him in left field.

The cutout idea began when teams in the Korean Baseball Organization played in empty ballparks.

In Chicago, the White Sox capped their cutouts at 1,500 and raised $50,000 for the team's charity foundation.

Some fans bought more than one cutout. Wives surprised their player husbands by having cutouts made of their children.

"It was a neat surprise for the players," says White Sox spokesman Scott Reifert.

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodón's wife had a cutout made of the ultrasound of their second child that's on its way.

In Seattle, the Mariners could be the first team with a sellout crowd of cutouts. The team has sold at least 11,000 cutouts and raised $50,000 for COVID-19 relief in Washington.

The Mariners say they will continue the promotion throughout the season. The cutouts are numbered, so when a foul ball hits a cutout, the Mariners mail the ball to the fan.

Orioles fans won't like this, but the Mariners had cutouts of Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman at a game.

As a 12-year-old fan during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1996 Division Series, Maier reached out and tried to grab a ball in play that Orioles right-fielder Tony Tarasco could have caught. Instead, it turned into a home run by the Yankees' Derek Jeter.

Bartman pulled a similar stunt in Chicago's Wrigley Field when the Cubs were playing the Marlins in the 2003 postseason.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies started on opening weekend with about 100 cutouts honoring nurses and doctors from Nemours Children's Health System and Jefferson Hospital sitting behind home plate.

The nurses and doctors, dressed in Phillies garb or their hospital work clothes, will be sitting behind home plate and are switched around for different games to give them all maximum exposure, says Scott Brandreth, the team's director of promotions.

The cutouts, which are 18 by 36 inches, are made of lightweight, waterproof plastic.

After honoring the medical heroes, the Phillies extended the reach of cutouts to season ticket holders ($25 a pop) and to the general public ($40) with the money going to the team's charity.

The trend grew fast.

When the Orioles arrive Tuesday, there will be 6,000-plus cutouts in the ballpark, including cutouts of 42 members of the 1980 World Series championship team. A cutout of manager Dallas Green will be sitting with Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Steve Carlton in the upper deck.

The team also marks with cutouts the seats that current Phillies players hit with home runs.

"We've already got three Bryce Harpers and two for Didi (Gregorius)," Brandreth says.

Uecker has a statue outside the Brewers' ballpark in Milwaukee. Fans can purchase cutouts to sit near the statue.

Uecker hit .208 in 78 games for the 1966 Phillies and jokes that the manager, Gene Mauch, once asked him to grab a bat and stop a rally.

But no matter how many cutouts the Phillies sell, Uecker will have a section all to himself at the ballpark, a humorous touch in a trying season.

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