Play Piped-In Ball!
I don’t know about you but I’m excited Major League Baseball is cranking up and it’s not only because of my love for the game. What’s got my juices flowing (and at my age they’re barely moving) is the artificial crowd noise they’re going to pipe into the stadiums since there won’t be any fans.
The Dodgers went one better in a pre-season game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, putting up cardboard cutouts of fans to go with the piped-in din.
I got a taste of it during the telecast of a Detroit Tigers intrasquad game last week and I have to say, that as spooky as it was to see 40,000 empty seats but hear 40,000 disembodied voices sparked all sorts of inane thoughts. Those thoughts included suggesting to Stephen King he write a book called “The Stands” and registering for ventriloquism school to see if they could teach me to throw my voice…from third to first.
But why stop at a simple din and occasional cheers? Why not create audio drop-ins that would include a cadre of unseen bots booing the crap out of an overpaid player who under-achieves or an ump who keeps missing calls? I’m sure the person running the audio could have at his or her disposal a number of disembodied bon mots that could include the traditional “you suck!” to the observant “balk!” to the erudite “you threw a fastball in a hitter’s count? Moron!” It might be slightly hysterical, if not ridiculous to see the targeted player flip the bird in the direction of his ersatz harasser. Then get tossed.
The Houston Astros are giving it a try through the use of a smartphone app that fans can access to express their sentiments. The info is monitored by the staff at the stadium who can them match the crowd noise to the percentage of fans rooting for each team.
Why stop with faux spectators? Every couple of minutes during an inevitable lull toss in the comforting sounds of a vendor hawking hot dogs, beer or an overpriced pennant, then quickly follow that with the sound of a fan hollering, “Hey! Two dogs, two beers!” To add a bit of texture, wait a few beats and toss in “where’s my effin’ change?”
I see a situation late in the game when the tension building all night explodes into an unseen spat between “fans” on opposite sides. Bring in the sound of fists hitting flesh, then add “Pow!” graphics to the screen. Now you’ve got a multimedia experience!
I know all this would really add authenticity to an otherwise inauthentic proposition and the players say they really feed off crowd noise so why not include as many elements as possible to make it seem as real as possible.
Besides, if it works out, maybe they’ll start projecting images of imaginary fans doing the Wave or even “catching” a foul ball or homer. I bet they can create holograms of fat guys with no shirt making their man boobs bounce in time with the music when they’re sure the camera is on them.
It’s all gonna work out! I can’t wait to sing “Fake Me Out to the Ballgame!”
After having worked in both the studio and Braves dugout doing network production and audio for numerous years for radio and TV in the 80’s and 90’s, I don’t think the players care one way or another if fans are there. It always appeared to me that they couldn’t have cared less. The game last night between the Braves and the Marlins was 8 to 1 with the Marlins leading in the 8th. I was sure it was over when I changed channels. Sports during the 11PM newscast said they won! So I recorded the replay and watched it today. Sure as hell as the bottom fell out for the Marlins with back to back walks, the Braves broke a 9 to 9 tie in the 9th with a walk off homerun. Their excitement and energy exploded through the TV, solidly confirming Yogi Berra’s famous quote. I also assumed they were probably happy to drive home with no exiting stadium traffic quagmires. While it should be better with fans in the stands, I sensed it wasn’t as bad as they might have expected.