Here’s what baseball is doing during this pandemic and Alan Muskovitz has some additional suggestions.
Baseball is back! Actually, 37% of baseball is back. The delayed start of the season has forced major league baseball (MLB) to concoct an abbreviated schedule reduced from the standard 162 games to 60. Baseball has been making efforts to speed up our national pastime, but who could have predicted a pandemic would speed up a season?
As I’m writing this column on July 26, our beloved ball club is arguably the league’s biggest surprise. Fasten your seat belts: After three games we are 2-1, tied for first place in the American League Central division! At this time last year the Tigers were 32-1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins. Gardenhire for manager of the year? Just sayin’.
In this asterisk of a season, the Tigers will not be playing Yankees, Red Sox or Orioles, oh my! As a matter of fact, to reduce exposure to COVID-19, they won’t be traveling or playing any American League team outside their own division. By the end of the season you could be a Minnesota fan. 10 of Detroit’s last 27 games alone are against the Twins.
For this abbreviated season, MLB has increased the number of eligible playoff teams from 10 to 16 of the combined 30 American and National League teams. They want to make as many clubs as possible feel like winners. Sort of like when players on your kid’s 0-10 soccer team get a participation trophy at the end of the season. Rumor has it that major league baseball player’s moms will be handing out orange slices to their sons during the seventh inning stretch.
Flicking through TV channels last week I caught a ball game where the home team had put life-size cut-outs of fans in the stadium. It was surreal. The commentator made a great observation when a foul ball was hit into the stands. He likened it to being at a fair. Knock down a cutout cardboard fan with a ball, win a prize!
Then I discovered that Fox Sports is inserting virtual fans and sound effects into their telecasts using what’s called Pixatope software. The first thought I had was, wouldn’t it be great if, during a lopsided score in a game, virtual fans would leave? Apparently yes! Fox Sports production and operation chief Brad Ziegler recently told Variety magazine: “If it’s an 8-1 game, the crowd can be thinned out.”
I have some additional suggestions:
- Send a strong message by showing virtual fans sitting socially distanced in the stands and all wearing masks.
- Make the games even more true to life by showing an obnoxious screaming virtual fan getting into an argument with an usher for not wearing one.
- Give the virtual fans a well-deserved break by allowing them to buy a hot dog, popcorn and pop for under $100.
- Just for laughs, allow the Houston Astros to use virtual fans to steal signs.
- I’m not suggesting this, but I’m betting it won’t take long for some tech-savvy fan to hack into a game and create a virtual streaker running across the field.
Finally, in the great movie A League of their Own, Tom Hanks, as manager, indignantly tells one of his female ballplayers that “there’s no crying in baseball.” Can you imagine his indignation if he were told there’s no spitting in baseball?
MLB has banned spitting over concerns for coronavirus spread, which begs the question, will the sunflower seed industry be eligible for a government stimulus check? By the way, crotch grabbing when stepping into the batter’s box is still legal.
This just in…MLB has agreed to allow telecasts to insert virtual sunflower seed spitting. Oh well, spitting is saliva and well. Play ball!