Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Sights and sounds from fan-free Fenway Park
BOSTON — A baseball season unlike any other began when I had my temperature taken on Saturday morning.
I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.
Covering a Major League Baseball game is not quite like traveling overseas. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting into Fenway Park isn't quite as easy as it has been.
Here now, Day 2 at Fenway.
Prior to arriving at Fenway Park, reporters have to fill out a Ballpark Entry Health Screening form. It asks if you, or me in this case, had experienced any of a number of symptoms in the previous 72 hours. That list includes shortness of breath, cough (onset or worsening), fever, chills, headache, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue and chest tightness.
It's a good thing I did not have to fill it out after I got to the press box, because walking up the ramps fatigued me a bit.
I filled out the form in the parking lot at the train station and got approved to come in. By the way, of the seven people in the train car with me, six of them wore masks and the one who didn't got on right before I got off. Keep it up people.
There's an electronic scanner by the media entrance and the metal detector that takes your temperature. Mine was 97.6 degrees, which was plenty low enough to get in.
Historically, media members can enter Fenway Park some four hours before a game. So to be there early and see players on the field with empty grandstands is normal. To watch a game in Fenway with no fans is like it was on a wet July night for a Berkshire Black Bears game — nobody home.
There are now double-decker bullpens with stairways leading up into the bleachers. There are tents next to the two dugouts, giving players much more room to social distance.
But the funniest thing you see before the game is the sight of Red Sox players and coaches walking through the grandstand to their dugout. That's because to encourage the social distancing, the Red Sox have turned a number of their suites into locker rooms for the players.
So to see first baseman Mitch Moreland walking down the steps toward the dugout, bag and glove in hand, has to make him think like he's back in Little League when Mom drops the kid off at the field. All that's missing are bottles of Gatorade and orange slices.
One other thing that is missing in Fenway is the out-of-town scoreboard. The four-column manual scoreboard on the Monster in left field has no out-of-town games listed. So not only does it feel like we are playing in a vacuum because of the crowd, it also feels that way because it's like nobody else is playing anywhere.
There are 16 reporters inside the Fenway press box, and maybe four or five others outside on the fifth level. There are more than that on a cold April night against the Texas Rangers or the Orioles than were here on Saturday. That's all because of social distancing.
Does the fact that the Red Sox and Orioles played in front of ZERO fans in Fenway extend the Red Sox's sellout streak? There weren't any tickets actually sold for the game. To me, it's like a batter with a 12-game hitting streak. He doesn't lose it by getting a night off.
A hum of crowd noise on TV is one thing, but the use of canned crowd noise just seems a bit off. Take a play to end the Baltimore fourth when Hanser Alberto was robbed of extra bases by a diving Jackie Bradley Jr. It was certainly an outstanding play, but the invisible crowd's roar wasn't — in my way of thinking — necessary.
And with nobody here, do we really need that "woosh" or whatever the sound is when an opposing player strikes out?
There's always a connection to the original "birthplace of baseball," and it came in the person of Baltimore utilityman Andrew Velazquez.
Velazquez came on in the eighth inning to play left field for the Orioles' Anthony Santander, who was 1 for 4 with a two-run double. Velazquez did not make a play in the field in the eighth or ninth innings and he did not get an at-bat.
Velazquez is the first former Pittsfield Suns player in the bigs. You can put an asterisk next to his name because he never played at Wahconah Park. He was drafted in the seventh round in the 2012 draft by Arizona. He was on the 2012 Pittsfield roster in the team's inaugural season but signed before he could step foot on Wahconah Street.
One thing that remains a constant when it comes to the Red Sox, is that off-the-wall star of the opener. It doesn't matter if the game is in April or July, there's somebody you don't expect getting the "star" treatment and is offered up to the media. Meet Jose Peraza.
Peraza was a free-agent signing in the off-season. He had spent the last four years with the Cincinnati organization. All he did on Friday was etch his name into the Sox record book. He went 4 for 5 with two doubles, two runs scored and two runs batted in. He is the seventh player in team history to have four hits in the season opener. He also joins Gabe Kapler as the only two Red Sox players to get four hits, two extra-base hits two RBI in the opener.
"It was great begin able to come away with the win," Peraza said through a translator before the game. "It was good to be out there."
Peraza has a .273 lifetime Major League batting average and was a very servicable infielder for the Cincinnati Reds for four seasons.
"Just taking the little things into account," he said, through his translator. "Obviously, I feel like I'm a different player and I'm just trying to take it day-by-day. There are times where I don't feel the best ... I just try to improve every single day."
The Friday wonder came down to earth on Saturday, going 0 for 4, with a ground out to short and three fly-ball outs.
So, while some things are very, very different, other things stay the same.
Welcome back to Fenway Park, 2020.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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