WASHINGTON -- Suddenly on Thursday, the speakers were alive in Nationals Park.
Out came the voice of public address announcer Jerome Hruska, who was in the stadium. The scoreboard lit up. The light boards around the park were active. By 8 p.m., the stadium lights were on, a benign breeze floated through the park and the intrasquad game was scoreless in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Starlin Castro singled up the middle off James Borque to excite the “crowd.” A cheer came through the speakers when the ball landed in center field. There were also cheers when a player struck out. Such is the nature of intrasquad play.
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So, the park went from echoing silence for almost two weeks to jazzed up three days before the exhibition opener. It was an improvement.
“If anything, it gets you zoned in a little more,” Erick Fedde said. “Crowd noise is something I feel like most are pretty good at zoning out. I didn’t really think about it to be honest. But it was nice to kind of feel like we had a little bit better atmosphere today.”
Major League Baseball went a similar route to the Premier League in order to combat empty stadiums. Sky Sports worked with EA Sports’ FIFA division to create simulated chants and crowd noises designed for specific teams. Here, MLB drew from audio created for the video game MLB The Show.
The video board usage was a distinct improvement from prior days when it only carried a doomsday-looking clock since workouts began July 3. Wednesday, it was filled with normal graphics -- including new ones mentioning who won the 2019 World Series -- throughout the intrasquad game.
“They noticed it,” Davey Martinez said of the players. “With not having like a regular crowd, obviously the echo out in the field, it’s different. We had to click it down a little bit to get it where we thought it was more ‘real’. But they liked it. They liked the noise. They like the music -- they like to dance -- so it was good. We got a great reaction from them, liked it, we’re going to incorporate it this season. We’re going to work out the bugs. It’s definitely a lot better to hear that than listen [to] yourself screaming or hear everyone talking.”
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It’s a work in progress. Wednesday night, Wilmer Difo popped up behind home plate into the stands and a large cheer went up. It was the kind of noise even the most overzealous fan base would not produce.
The noise as a whole was turned down in the final innings, per the players’ request. Martinez thought they found the proper spot for the volume by the end of the night.
“I want to make this last week or so as close as we can to real games,” Martinez said.
-- Stephen Strasburg started for one side. He struck out four consecutive batters after Trea Turner doubled to start the intrasquad game. Not surprisingly, Martinez said he thought Strasburg looked good. He’s in line to face James Paxton in the second game of the season when the New York Yankees come to Nationals Park.
-- Starlin Castro has been piling up at-bats and swings since joining camp July 9. He started late, so he is trying to catch up. He’s also crucial -- remaining likely to hit third during the season -- so the Nationals want to be sure he’s not doing too much.
“It’s a fine line,” Martinez said. “He’s been taking a lot of swings in the cage. Hitting, hitting off the velo machine. I’m not overly concerned with Starlin. He’s just a pure hitter. He’s a good hitter. ...he’ll be fine.”
-- Carter Kieboom made a nice sliding defensive play to his left and was able to get up and throw to first for the out. He also turned a 5-3 double play when fielding a grounder, hearing yells to step on the bag, slightly changing direction to find it, then throwing to first. His education at third base is happening in real-time.
-- Martinez positively mentioned Jake Irvin throwing 95-97 mph on Wednesday when he pitched the bottom of the fifth inning. Irvin, 23, pitched for Single-A Hagerstown last season.
“It’s so funny to watch these young kids come up,” Martinez said. “He walked off the mound and had those big ‘ol eyeballs sticking out. I can remember those days when I was a kid coming out and playing those games.”
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