The sound of silence
Wednesday will be a dream for baseball fans—eight playoff games stretching from noon to well after midnight on the East Coast. Say what you will about MLB’s new expanded playoff format, but it’s pretty amazing that it gives us a March Madness-style day of wall-to-wall action.
And yet, after watching Tuesday’s playoff openers, I find my excitement dampened.
It should go without saying at this point that fake crowd noise is a very unfortunate necessity and the playoffs only make it more obvious. The organic excitement of a playoff environment is a significant part of the viewing experience and something that can’t be replicated. We’ve missed seeing white-out crowds in the NHL playoffs and fourth-quarter “de-fense” chants in the NBA. But nowhere is change in atmosphere more jarring than in the MLB playoffs.
Regular-season basketball and hockey crowds are reasonably raucous. The adjustment to the postseason is noticeable but not extreme. For baseball crowds, though, the playoffs are the one time we get to hear them sound like football crowds. The usual dull murmur between pitches becomes a steady cacophony of claps, cheers and whistles. It conveys the heightened stakes of each pitch. It’s a treat for baseball fans, having endured 162 games of a methodically paced regular season, to have the game imbued with the frenzied excitement of a do-or-die situation.
This year, obviously, there’s none of that. Here’s what it sounded like when Manuel Margot hit a homer to give the Rays a 3–0 lead at home in the seventh.
Even mausoleums like the Trop get jumping during the postseason under normal circumstances.
The dull atmosphere of this year’s playoffs got me thinking about some of baseball’s great recent playoff moments, so I looked up José Bautista’s walk-off series-clincher against the Rangers from 2015. There has to be a German word for the experience of watching this video in 2020.
But that moment is perhaps the loudest a baseball crowd has ever been, so maybe it’s not fair to use that as a reference point. What about Didi Gregorius’s clutch homers against the Twins in 2017 and 2019?
That’s what we’re missing—that kind eruption from a sold-out crowd. That’s why more fans tune in on TV during the playoffs and why I’ll pay $100 to sit in the last row at Yankee Stadium in October. I don’t really have a good point to make about it, just that it sucks and I hope it’s only extremely temporary.
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