NEW YORK – With one man out in the second inning of Friday night's intrasquad at Yankee Stadium, outfielder Brett Gardner skied a foul ball behind home plate.
Catcher Chris Iannetta gave it a look, but the pop up was destined to fall out of play. It crash-landed nine rows deep in foul territory, swallowed up by a section full of empty seats.
Why was this inconsequential moment in a practice game significant? As the ball reached it's peak trajectory, turning around to head back toward the ground, a virtual sell-out crowd erupted in a thunderous roar.
For the first time at Yankees' Summer Camp, New York debuted crowd noise, filling a barren ballpark with a steady buzz.
"Early in the day, I really didn't like it," manager Aaron Boone said. "It sounded kind of like we're trying to tune in our AM radio and trying to find the station and we couldn't find it. I felt a little better with it during the game, it did feel a little bit more natural."
At certain points throughout the evening, the crowd noise would intensify, simulating fans reacting to important moments on the diamond.
It worked to perfection during the first at-bat of the game as outfielder Mike Tauchman sliced a base hit to left field off ace Gerrit Cole. Murmurs spiked into cheers as the ball flew over Tyler Wade's head at shortstop, nestling into the outfield grass.
The same occurred when Mike Ford and Miguel Andújar went back-to-back off Cole in the fourth frame. Each time the virtual crowd rose to its feet as the ball traveled closer to the right-field wall.
Seeing the lights flicker and hearing Yankee Stadium's signature home run tune provided at least a little normalcy – so long as you don't look into the stands and see tens of thousands of empty seats.
As was the case with Gardner's pop fly, however, some tweaks evidently still need to be made. The audible peaks didn't always come at the right times.
Boone singled out a moment when a routine fly ball was punched out to right field. As Aaron Judge tracked it down, the virtual crowd roared as though he had robbed a homer to save the game.
Whoever was in charge of controlling the levels of crowd noise was clearly still adjusting to a brand new task. It seemed like the volume only had two levels. While the white-noise type base was appropriate for the majority of the contest, any ball in play sparked a sudden virtual ruckus that didn't always fit what was transpiring on the field.
Otherwise, Boone was "locked in" on the game and didn't notice the fluctuations in the sound coming out of Yankee Stadium's speakers. Similarly, those on the field were concentrating on the task at hand between the lines.
"To be honest, when I'm on the field, I'm only paying attention to what our pitchers are doing and focusing on the task at hand," catcher Gary Sánchez said.
Understanding the alternative – an "abyss" void of sound, as Kyle Higashioka called it – Cole said he liked this change better than the way it was. Nonetheless, it doesn't take a longtime member of the Yankees to know that this crowd noise is absolutely nothing like the real thing.
"Yankee fans sound a lot better than the manufactured sound," Cole said. "Just the general energy of people in the park is not there."
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