SAN DIEGO—Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker turned on the television Monday night and was excited to see even a limited amount of fans attending the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves.
Zack Greinke, Houston’s scheduled starting pitcher for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday evening at Petco Park, not so much.
“I think it was real cool,” Baker said. “I think we all miss fans, especially at playoff time. If we can get them in there that will be a big plus.”
One of the big bonuses of winning this series is moving on to the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tex., where fans began attending this week at about 25% of the new ballpark’s 41,000 capacity and will do so for the remainder of the postseason.
Greinke may not have to worry about it. He has the task of warding off a sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays in an empty ballpark. Because of the continuing spread of the coronavirus and the state of California’s health dictates about crowd size, the games this week at Petco are still fanless.
That’s just fine with Greinke. The quirky veteran right-hander called the COVID-plagued season “the least fun of my career.”
“For me, it’s nice not having fans in the stands,” he said. “Most people like it. You know, I don’t really notice the fans when the game’s going on. Just [while] warming up and practice before games. When the game comes on it’s [a blank] for me.”
Back in Arlington, however, the box score from Monday’s 5-1 Braves win over the Dodgers listed an attendance of 10,700–the first time during this 60-game regular season and two earlier rounds of playoffs that fans have been allowed to attend. There were 10,624 in the stands for Tuesday’s 8-7 encore Atlanta victory.
“There’s been a buzz,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s nice to have some fans back in the stands.”
The state of Texas is allowing up to 50% capacity at professional sporting events despite an increase Tuesday of 5,706 COVID cases, the most of any state in the U.S. Overall, 17,083 Texans have died since a national emergency was called because of the pandemic back on March 13, a day after MLB stopped playing baseball for four months.
Asked why he feels comfortable without fans in the stands, Greinke said:
“Because there’s nobody trying to talk to you, ask for autographs, want pictures and all that stuff. I don’t like any of that stuff. So, it’s nice not having them, for me.”
Of course, those fans help defray the cost of Greinke’s salary, $32 million for a full season, $7 million prorated for this abbreviated season.
MLB is trying to recoup millions of dollars in lost revenue. Even still, the league thought it was prudent to play at 25% of capacity, pricing tickets for the NLCS from $40 to $250, and the World Series between $75 and $450.
The gate receipts of the first four games of each series go directly for distribution to the players, who also have a $50 million pool this postseason to draw from.
Baker thinks the return of fans is a big deal, but it doesn’t appear his team’s going to make it.
“We’re looking forward to some fans in the stands,” Baker said. “My family’s in the stands. I can’t see them. I can just wave to them. They weren’t in the bubble at the [Omni La Costa Resort] like some other people were. It’s been strange this season. You’ve got to come up with your own positive energy and thoughts.
“I feel very fortunate that we made it this far to where we are right now. It didn’t look like baseball was going to make it to this point.”
But the Rays seem to be on their way to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and only the second time in club history since expanding into the AL in 1998. In 2008, they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games, with the final innings of the last contest in Philadelphia delayed by rain for two days.
Fans will just be an added incentive.
“I think it will be great. A lot of guys are looking forward to it,” said left-hander Tyler Glasnow, who’s slated to draw Greinke in what could be the ALCS finale. “We’ll kind of get back to normal baseball a bit. The energy will be high anyway with it being the World Series, if we get there.”
The four remaining playoff teams have been restricted to bubbles since the last weekend of the regular season. The teams playing in San Diego have been housed in the same resort hotel in nearby Carlsbad, but on separate parts of the sprawling Omni La Costa property.
The bubbles haven’t produced a single positive COVID test yet this postseason, Major League Baseball reported, as opposed to 57 positive tests generated by players and staff during the regular season, which caused 47 games to be postponed or canceled.
During the season, teams traveled within their own regions and players were allowed to return home in their own cities.
This week direct family members have been allowed into the bubbles, which has been pleasing to Greinke.
“It’s actually been pretty good since we got here,” he said. “It’s been alright. The first two series of the playoff were no fun. But it’s been better the last couple of days, so that’s nice.”