Adam Eaton was the first batter to walk through the silence to the plate in Baltimore on April 29, 2015.
Only players, staff, umpires and reporters were inside the brick venue in downtown Baltimore. Fans were not allowed following the civil unrest spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, who was critically injured in police custody 10 days earlier. Baseball’s first game without fans finished as an Orioles 8-2 win against the Chicago White Sox.
Eaton remembers the silence. The vibe in the stadium was gone, walkup music was off, the only sounds were light chatter and bat cracks.
“It was worse than a backfield spring training game,” he said Friday.
The Nationals are debating whether they will add fake crowd noise to their home games at Nationals Park. Friday’s simulated game provided hints of what will happen: Stephen Strasburg took the mound to "Seven Nation Army." Some music played between innings. Players could be heard talking.
The stands were empty. The echo from Jake Noll’s home run off Erick Fedde was loud, both at the crack of the bat and when the ball landed in the unpopulated left-center field seats.
This cone of silence will not be a one-off situation in 2020. It will be every day, in almost every park. Four organizations have touted the possibility of fans in the stands before the season -- if it begins. To Eaton, the quiet repetition may be the biggest issue during games.
“I don’t think guys realize what a challenge that’s going to be,” Eaton said. “I did not enjoy the one game I played. Just the energy, the feel, the fans. We’re nothing without our fans. I truly believe the game is completely different. The emotion of the game, the momentum so to speak of a fan base or going into a place with a fan base against you. It’s very difficult. I think the first week will be fine. I think the weeks after that will be very challenging. But, again as professional athletes as guys in our clubhouse who have done it for a long time, I think it’s a challenge we’re going to meet head-on and try to make the most out of the situation.”
Eaton is naturally chatty, bordering on boisterous. His voice is among the few distinct sounds in the stadium since workouts began a week ago. He’s trying to put a positive spin on a tenuous, and muted, situation.
“I think a couple of the guys, we just want to keep everybody loose,” Eaton said. “Try to enjoy it. As bad as the pandemic is and everything that is going on, we were trying to make the most of our situation. Trying to make guys laugh, keep guys on their toes, anything to kind of get their mind off it and the echo.”
The echo. It stands out among the other oddities in the park. Nationals Park was never empty during its prior use. The team filled half of the stadium for a final spring training game with fans and workers. Even the pregame workouts are covered in the noise of music, stadium shows, and the sounds of a stadium being ready to come alive.
Now, the discussion is what to do about the stadium’s muted existence.
“I don’t really know,” Eaton said when asked about fake crowd noise. “I will say this: If I had to pick one side, I think anything would help. That day, I don’t believe there was even walkup music, there was nothing. It was just straight go out there….So I think any noise will help, any type of -- I know the soccer teams, they’re playing crowd noise. Even if you have that buzz in the stadium, it would help.”
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