During the fifth inning of Wednesday's White Sox-Orioles game, Everth Cabrera fouled off a pitch to the left side. He didn't track it, nor did Jeff Samardzija.
Hawk Harrelson must have.
"And another foul ball into the seats," the White Sox broadcaster said, as the count stayed full.
Even though the first 4½ innings had their share of foul balls, the sight of one caroming around an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards sounded like it struck a chord with Harrelson, because he lingered on the thought.
"I must admit ... it's weird." Harrelson started, pausing to choose words even as Samardzija was on his way to delivering yet another 3-2 pitch. "But ... not as weird as I thought it might be, having no fans in attendance."
Samardzija fired a fastball by Cabrera.
"He gone! Two down!"
We should have expected the mood to lurch like that. Wednesday's historic event -- a Major League Baseball game closed to the public on purpose -- was born from a tug of war; an awkward compromise between civic concern and pragmatic business interests. The unrest in Baltimore required too much attention and too many resources to stage a major public event alongside it. Yet neither the Orioles nor the White Sox wanted to wreak havoc with their schedules by postponing an entire series.
So, the teams and the league split the baby and set forth on an experiment, changing the final date from a night game to a day game, and locking out fans in order to reduce the amount of assemblies across the city by one.
Watching the game created its own dissonance. Like Harrelson said, it wasn't entirely weird. I have watched major league players under similar circumstances in spring training "B" games, so the lack of witnesses and other assortment of sounds wasn't completely alien to me. Whatever was weird should have been celebrated, since that's usually more fun to discuss.
Taking notes during the game, a handful of things stood out to me in particular, but that overarching incongruity lasted the entire game. I was fascinated by what the unprecedented circumstances revealed about the game and its participants, but the weirdness overstayed its welcome.
Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone really don't talk much
And not just before the game got out of hand.
During the periods of silence between Harrelson and Stone, you could hear Baltimore play-by-play guy Gary Thorne rather clearly through the wall. He filled up an awful lot of that WPWR dead air by himself, and when you couldn't hear him, I'm guessing analyst Jim Palmer was talking. He doesn't project his voice enough to be heard on two broadcasts, though, so I can't say for sure.
This isn't entirely a criticism of Harrelson. For one, Thorne and Palmer might be my favorite broadcasting duo in the league, so it's like hearing a great concert from the street. Plus, Thorne often chose to say what the visuals already provided (the count, the pitcher starting his windup, etc.). That's purely a stylistic choice, and Harrelson will abide by "less is more" in this regard. He'll assume that fans can see the play, and so he gives them his reaction instead.
For instance: On Sunday, a White Sox relay cut down a Royal at the plate. I was in the other room at the time, and Harrelson didn't exactly paint me a comprehensive picture at the play:
"That's trouble. It's gonna fall. Now it's dropped. Now they're gonna wave him around. Gotta have a GOOD THROW DON'T HESITATE he's got him."— South Side Sox (@SouthSideSox) April 26, 2015
I skipped back on the DVR to understand what actually happened, and when paired with the video, I actually like that kind of call a lot. So that much is in the ear of the beholder. Thorne is great and can talk as much as he wants, but for lesser broadcasters, I'd rather have the sparser commentary.
Taking that into account ... there is still a ton of silence on White Sox broadcasts. And hearing Thorne through the wall serving as the Mario Kart Ghost Racer of Normal Professional Broadcasts, it's easy to think the silence is of the "I-have-nothing-to-say-to-you" variety.
The chatter wasn't that remarkable
This game really needed an argument about the umpire's strike zone. Or a disregard of unwritten rules. Something to get people jawing at each other. Outside of Micah Johnson yelling "No!" to an awful third strike called on him, we didn't get to hear any strenuous objection.
It was cool hearing Jose Abreu yell "GOTITGOTIGOTITGOTITGOTIT!" I think I heard Daryl Boston urging Avisail Garcia to bust it down the line on his infield single in the fifth. First base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt informed everybody "Right there!" He's out!" after Chris Davis tagged Abreu. But for a game with no fans, I thought we might hear a little more distinguishable, noteworthy interaction among players and umpires.
Too bad Jake Peavy wasn't one of the starters. He would have taken care of it by himself.
Fans slow down the pace of play
The White Sox and Orioles only needed 2 hours, 3 minutes to wrap this one up. The six-run first had a lot to do with the expediency afterward, but I sensed that the lack of fans -- and the lack of in-game production catering to them -- made the game move faster.
Admittedly, I'm guessing with some of it. For instance, it felt like pitchers and hitters moved more quickly without "EVERYBODY CLAP YOUR HANDS" providing some measure of cover between pitches. Foul balls posed zero consequences, and so players and umpires didn't watch them as long as they normally would. I didn't clock these moments against a constant, so it's possible they took up the usual amount of time, but it makes sense that players would move faster when there's nothing else going on.
I'm not guessing when it came to home runs, though. Painful as it may be, take a look at Manny Machado's homer, or at least the end of it:
In a normal game, there's a more organized, elaborate celebration with music, lights and/or fireworks. The fans are also worked up into a frenzy, and so the pitcher will take more time to gather himself.
In this case, once Cabrera congratulates Machado, he's getting in the batter's box before Machado reaches the entrance of the dugout.
Baseball games need fans
But games should allow time for fans to celebrate events, because that's the whole reason everybody's watching, whether in person or at home. The lack of a shared reaction makes even the big moments look small:
Especially when the home run balls are neglected afterward:
This is just sad. Chris Davis' home run ball has yet to be picked up. (via @masnOrioles) pic.twitter.com/rmWB3qxq1g— Baseball Tonight (@BBTN) April 29, 2015
Nobody involved could create a souvenir if they tried ...
Free ball! https://t.co/rXm8xZXeDa— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) April 29, 2015
... so most didn't.
This #Orioles ballgirl now knows what it's like to be the Tampa Bay ball girl. #OriolesVSWhiteSox #lonely pic.twitter.com/ycWE8a0SEr— Ryan Patrick (@Senor_Rubio) April 29, 2015
All of these things are funny in isolation. The setting's surreality served up plenty of humor for the taking. Thorne indulged himself a little when he called Adam Jones' double like a golf shot:
But some of that laughter was to keep from crying. Foul balls thudding against empty seats looked like it was ripped from a post-apocalyptic version of "Major League." If the sight of fans limited to watching from a distance through iron bars didn't bring a police state to mind, the sounds of sirens and helicopters did.
We heard all the attendance jokes, but regardless of whether it's a crowd of 50 or 50,000, people will show up to a Major League Baseball game. If nobody's there, something went terribly wrong. Something certainly did in Baltimore, so let's hope we never see another game like this again.