Sports are a sanctuary from the real world. That might sound silly and trite, but like a lot of silly and trite things, there are elements of truth to it.
Whenever there is strife in our lives, we know we can look to the sports arena and find a few hours of quiet.
But rarely has the idea been quite so literal.
On Wednesday afternoon, the White Sox and the Orioles will play a game at Camden Yards devoid of spectators. Orioles officials say the ballpark will be closed to the public because of the threat of violence stemming from protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal-cord injury while in police custody. Tuesday night’s game was canceled for the same reason – officials didn’t want to expose fans to the possibility of harm.
It figures to be an odd sight Wednesday, and just as odd a sound. Bat will strike ball, but it will not be followed by the roar of the crowd. It will feel like every junior-varsity baseball game ever played. Perhaps we’ll hear through our TVs the sound of player chatter when the announcers aren’t talking. Mostly, we’ll hear silence. Nobody hawking beer. Nobody grumbling about an umpire’s decision. Very little baseball background noise.
Sports and the real world converge all the time. There is no separating the two. But if you’re at a game, you can convince yourself that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the pitcher isn’t an enormous jerk or the leftfielder isn’t a confirmed drug cheat. You can get gloriously lost in a baseball game.
It will be very difficult to get lost in Wednesday’s game, even if you’re watching on television. There will be camera shots of all the empty sections, and you’ll not be able to escape the fact that outside the gates is a hard world. It’s a world in which protesters rage over what they perceive as a long history of bad behavior by police; a world in which looters operate under the guise of being protesters; and a world in which police officers risk their safety to keep the peace.
Major League Baseball officials said they could think of no other instance of a game being played, by design, inside an empty stadium. It’s a very unfortunate first.
The Sox are not new to real-world issues. They were in New York during 9/11 and took buses, rather than a plane, home. But this will be different. This isn’t virtual baseball, but it’s close. You wonder about truly trivial things involving an empty ballpark: Will the silence throw off the players’ concentration and timing? Is there such a thing as home-field advantage when there is no home crowd? Will players’ short walk to the plate be accompanied by music? Will there be audio advertising?
In the face of fire, destruction, injuries, arrests and curfews, it all means very, very little. It will mean, at its most superficial level, baseball weirdness.
Runs, hits, errors and nobody left.