I’ve written in the past about the efforts by various leagues to keep the fan atmosphere present at games even when fans aren’t allowed into stadiums. That trend has continued into Winter Ball, at least it has for most leagues. Every league has its own approach, but they generally fall into three categories: 1) Piped in crowd noise and cardboard cutouts in the stands, 2) Piped in crowd noise and empty stadiums, 3) Fans in the stands but at a very reduced number. Two leagues are doing something different and both are interesting for different reasons.
Beisbol Invernal de Guatemala is taking as basic of an approach as possible, with no fans in the stands and no piped-in crowd noise. It does make their games slightly surreal, but BIG doesn’t play in large stadiums. That means that there are still noises coming from both dugouts that are always easy to hear on the broadcast. This creates an interesting atmosphere, the chatter from the dugouts does help to maintain a baseball feel without any of the extra bells and whistles that most other leagues are employing.
Serie Nacional de Béisbol is leaving the state of the stadiums up to each individual team. None of the stadiums have used cardboard cutout fans that I have seen, but some stadiums do pipe in crowd noise. Other stadiums are taking the same approach as in BIG; no cardboard cutouts and no piped-in crowd noise whatsoever. The difference is that the Cuban stadiums are massive and this creates a wholly unique experience of quiet baseball. There aren’t actual fans, no dugout chatter that can really be heard, no fake crowd noise, no distracting cardboard cutouts, and no between batters music or organ usage of any type.
These dead stadiums have provided the most interesting baseball viewing so far this year. It’s truly a baseball experience unlike any other. There are moments when the announcers for the teams using the dead approach will sit back and allow the action to take place. In those moments there is absolutely no sound coming from a 15,000+ seat stadium other than the sound of the bat hitting ball or the ball hitting someone’s glove. It took me some time to get used to dead baseball, and I’m not sure I’ve finished adapting yet. The moments when the announcers stop talking still feel like something different than any baseball I have ever known.
The opposite has been true with the leagues using piped-in noise or cardboard cutouts. They are now part and parcel of the baseball viewing experience. Nothing feels different about them, sometimes I can’t even tell if the stadium is actually empty or the fans are being particularly loud. I initially worried about getting used to that form of baseball, but I got used to it rather quickly. Dead baseball represents something completely foreign and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to its motions or cadence.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – The Philadelphia Inquirer