If a three-base error falls in the corner off Eloy Jimenez’s glove and nobody is there to yell obscenities, did it actually happen?
The Cubs and White Sox might be about to find out this weekend, when the most intriguing crosstown series since Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen wore Chicago uniforms plays out at Wrigley Field, starting Friday night.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s going to be a lot more quiet.”
Of all the series the Cubs will play at home during this 60-game season, this is the one most impacted by the COVID-19-related ban on fans in the stadium.
Because whatever the quality of the teams on the field or the faux excitement players express into cameras and microphones annually about the series, the intensity of this “rivalry” has always been about the intensity of the fans in the best two-team town in baseball.
“It’s going to be weird,” Cubs infielder David Bote said. “We had that [exhibition last month], and even that felt weird. You’re looking around, and, I don’t know, waiting for the fights to break out, I guess.”
Fights in the stands. Rival loyalties within inter-team marriages displayed by couples in opposing gear. And extra hordes of media to hype and pander to it all for three days of over-the-top shows of team pride and emotional spectacle.
These teams this year arrive at the doorstep of their annual fan grudge-fest at a time the teams are finally good enough on both sides of town — with interesting enough talent and personalities on both rosters — to stoke genuine visions of October chances for both.
It’s been 12 years since both teams made the playoffs in the same season.
And this series arrives at a civic and national moment fans could use the distraction most.
“My heart goes out to the city because they don’t get to come out and enjoy that,” Heyward said.
Except for a smattering of fans on rooftops, safe-distancing across the street from the bleachers, the silence will be especially deafening for this series than it has been for any of the others at Wrigley this year, including the just-completed five-gamer against the Cardinals.
“Just in general the fans are greatly missed, the energy they bring,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Obviously, the crosstown rivalry stuff is always just a little extra. You feel that.”
This year’s series already comes with a little extra in terms of legitimate playoff hopes at stake for both teams — with 10 percent of their schedules represented in the six games they’ll play against each other — as well as the combined talent on the rosters, mostly because of the influx of exciting young talent on the South Side.
The Sox, with former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel starting the opener against Jon Lester Friday, are locked in a three-way race atop the American League Central approaching the halfway mark in the season. The Cubs, at 16-8, have the second-best record in the National League and as big a division lead as anyone in baseball after winning three of five against the Cardinals this week.
The Sox have a batting champion in shortstop Tim Anderson and one of the game’s most exciting and powerful rookies in center fielder Luis Robert.
The more veteran Cubs have an early MVP candidate in center fielder Ian Happ and Cy Young candidate in Yu Darvish.
“I think it still really matters,” Ross said. “I’ve got buddies from being in the city a little bit that are White Sox fans or are anxious about the series coming up.”
It definitely matters when it comes to what the games mean disproportionately this time around with such a short schedule. And the Cubs, for one, don’t have as many games left against anybody else that looks as much like a playoff contender.
“We’re going to go out here and try to get after the team that has a lot of expectations, and rightfully so,” Heyward said.
Even if the biggest impact players in the city aren’t allowed into the ballpark.
“You miss it,” Bote said. “You miss the electric, you miss the feel, you miss the chants, you miss the oohs and the aahs and the silence and the beer vendors and all the things that you love to hear at a ballpark. It’s definitely something you miss.
“It just stinks.”