A look at games possibly being played without fans

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that we may see at least some Major League Baseball games this summer with no fans. It will remind the Orioles of their 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on April 29, 2015. No fans were allowed in Camden Yards, but a game went on.

The city of Toronto yesterday banned public events through at least June 30. Is that a sign that baseball will not be back until July, if at all, during 2020? Not necessarily, but it is also true that cities and states are probably not taking sporting events much into account in the decision-making process these days. That is certainly understandable.

The Orioles were scheduled to play a three-game series at Rogers Centre from May 4-6 and then turn right around and play a four-game set there from May 21-24. Interesting scheduling.

I hope to get to cover some Orioles games in Toronto this year. That would mean we are having some sort of a season. That would also mean I get to go to one of my favorite cities. But that ballpark is much more fun with a big crowd and I hope fans are there if I am.

And to clarify, last night, a Toronto city official told reporters there that the ban is exclusively for city-led events. He said this does not affect the NHL or NBA from returning or MLB from starting.

But while we may get baseball back at some point this year, it may not feel completely normal. We could see many doubleheaders. We could see doubleheaders with seven-inning games. We could see teams playing at neutral sites. We could see empty stands. We could see playoff games in warm-weather locales and with no team playing in its own park. All of this is on the table.

To me, it’s better to have these discussions, then to tell everyone to pack away the bats and balls and wait till next year.

It was bizarre to cover that Orioles-White Sox game. It was strange to hear foul balls and even home runs clang off empty seats. To hear Gary Thorne calling the game on the third level when we were sitting in the press box on the second level. Players said they could hear internal press box announcements, meant to be heard only by reporters, on the field.

Click here for the game story from that day. Right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez pitched a gem and the Orioles scored six runs in the first inning.

No fans were allowed in but that didn’t keep some from standing just outside the outfield gate. Caleb Joseph, who caught that day, heard them.

“Kudos to those people out in left-center field,” he said that day. “We could hear them, and it did resemble somewhat of a home game. We heard that Orioles chant. In between innings was the most awkward part of the game when you are used to the Kiss Cam and the in-between entertainment. It was definitely different. Sometimes, I think we take for granted the impact of fans that they have on the game.”

The Orioles’ Chris Davis, who is the club’s player representative, spoke with local reporters via a conference call set up by the club yesterday. Davis talked about the possibility that baseball could return this summer, at least initially, without fans at games.

“I think that’s something that I’ve prepared myself for, hoping that we wouldn’t necessarily have to do that,” he said. “I think at this point, there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of different scenarios that are on the table, just as far as a logistic standpoint is concerned. Obviously, I’d love to play as many games as possible, but I also want people to be safe, I want people to feel comfortable being around other people, being around other fans at the ballpark. And I want the guys to feel safe on the field.

“Honestly, I don’t look forward to doing that, but I feel like we’re going to have to do some things that are a little unfamiliar, at least for the foreseeable future. I don’t know. It’s still relatively early, we still have a lot of unknowns, a lot of things that are up in the air. But we’ve talked about it. It’s definitely a possibility.”

Davis-HR-Swing-Gray-SD-Sidebar.jpgDavis on scaled-down draft: Meanwhile, though Davis didn’t make the decision to limit the draft this year to fewer than the usual 40 rounds - possibly as few as five - he is part of the players union that was involved in those negotiations with MLB.

I asked Davis, a player who was drafted three times himself as an amateur, to provide his take on possibly limiting the usual number of players that could enter pro ball that way.

“That is a tough topic,” he said. “Honestly, when you start talking about guys that could potentially be drafted and guys that could potentially not be drafted because of the fact that it was shortened. But I think you just have to look at the overall situation. This is an unprecedented time in our world history, let alone baseball, we’ve never seen anything like this.

“To have to make these kind of adjustments as we go without having anything to reference, it’s tough. So, I wish we could keep things the way that they are. The way they’ve been done for several years. But, obviously with the way that things are going right now, it’s just not possible.

“I feel for those guys. I hope they still have an opportunity to at least pursue their career or pursue their playing career in professional baseball. It’s just unfortunate to be in this situation right now.”

Davis was first drafted in Round 50 of the 2004 draft out of Longview (Texas) High School by the New York Yankees. He was the third to last pick of that draft, No. 1,496 overall. A year later, he was taken in Round 35 by the Los Angeles Angels out of Navarro (Texas) Junior College. A year later, he was taken by the Texas Rangers in Round 5 out of Navarro and this time he signed.

End on this high note: Here is a neat message from the Orioles’ Single-A Frederick franchise.

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