What’s it like to cover a game with no fans?

April 30, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
APRIL 29: View of Camden Yards during a Major League Baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox where, fans were shut out of the afternoon game by the Orioles after protests and unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch/IPX)

APRIL 29: View of Camden Yards during a Major League Baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox where, fans were shut out of the afternoon game by the Orioles after protests and unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch/IPX)

I was throwing batting practice to 11-year-olds in a 40-degree Chicago chill Wednesday night when another dad mentioned that the White Sox would be back in town next week.

“Yeah, they’re going to keep the fences up but not let any fans in!”

Nobody had to ask about the reference to that afternoon’s historic no-fans White Sox-Orioles game in Baltimore. And nobody now knows better than those who covered it.

“It was weird, strange, eerie, all of that,” says Daryl Van Schouwen, the Sox beat reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, who couldn’t help thinking about the famous oddity of fans on rooftops across from Chicago’s Wrigley Field watching Cubs games.

“The circumstances surrounding this game, with fans peering in from behind a gate and cheering from a hotel deck a la the Wrigley rooftops, a helicopter passing over as a reminder of what was going on,” he said, citing various images he glimpsed.

There was, too, the curiosity of the public address announcer making the occasional baseball-related announcement, as well as recordings of the National Anthem and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

Then, of course there was the pro forma announcement to those in the press box as to that day’s paid attendance. In this case, it was “zero.”

There were well over 100 media at the game, with about 20 cameramen, the Chicago reporter said. In all there was a packed press box of 92 people, with a mix of baseball writers and national print, radio and TV reporters.

Van Schouwen can’t really liken it to any other professional sports event he’s attended, except one in the 1970s. Then, as a spectator, he went with his uncle to a Chicago BlackHawks-Colorado Rockies game after a bad Chicago snowstorm. There were fewer than 500 in the stands.

“I can’t say I enjoyed it,” said the reporter, who soon was off to Minneapolis and the next Sox series, about Wednesday’s game. “It wasn’t a ‘cool’ experience by any means.

In fact, he says, there were just two collective chuckles in the press box: when the attendance was formally announced and amid the clear sounds of a radio announcer’s play by play voice, off in the distance on another level of the press area, as he called a home run.

“I have covered high school events, like girls soccer on the Eastern Shore [of Maryland] but there were still 20 or 30 family members there. Here, not even players’ families were allowed in,” said Brent Harris, a reporter for Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, who covers all the Baltimore teams.

He’s been on the field for the hoopla of two Ravens Super Bowl wins and Orioles legend Cal Ripken breaking the famous consecutive game streak of Lou Gehrig. This game, though, he’ll forever remember for sounds of a different sort.

“Baseball sounds you normally do not hear due to crowd noise: the manger yelling to players to move, players shouting to one another on a pop fly.”

When Orioles slugger Chris Davis hit a homerun in the first inning, “the sound the bat made is something you usually do not hear. It literally rang out through the stadium.”

And, then, one saw Davis running around the bases but didn’t hear any fans cheering, but just the “the sounds of his teammates clapping.”

Both reporters gave the distinct impression that, given the social backdrop to the game, it was all quite weird but also unavoidably poignant.

Correction: An earlier version of this story got Chris Davis’ last name wrong. It has been corrected. Also, commenter Frank Bond noted that the song that played during the seventh-inning stretch was John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” not “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Note: The story originally said the Chicago Blackhawks played the Colorado Rockies, which was correct. Their was some confusion because Rockies are now a baseball team, but in the 70s the Rockies were a hockey team.

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