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Announcer Benetti, Sox players try to get used to baseball without fans
Jason Benetti wants to feel your White Sox joy. While the TV playby-play announcer will describe games from an empty Guaranteed Rate Field into your living room in the unprecedented season that begins next weekend, he wants to see for himself how fans react to the biggest moments.
“We want fans to send us their reactions of big plays from their couch because I just want to see people go crazy in their living room,” Benetti said Wednesday. “Have your husband or wife or kids turn on their camera; we want to see what you react like. Because we don’t get it this year. Hopefully people do it.”
Players in a week’s worth of intrasquad games are getting a feel for how it will look during an abbreviated 60-game season with no fans, and Benetti got a taste of what his job will be like sitting in the booth at the Sox’ most recent intrasquads at Guaranteed Rate Field. NBC Sports Chicago was slated to televise Thursday night and Friday.
To his pleasant surprise, Benetti felt better about what baseball will be like in an empty stadium.
“I was oddly comforted about the way the game looks,” Benetti said. “One of my fears was that you’d show up, and it wouldn’t be the same feel because it’s just totally and entirely a different deal. I said it on the air: There was a serenity that came along with watching the game in a pretty primitive way that makes you appreciate the small things in the game even more as a baseball fan.
“I was more excited after the game than I was getting to the ballpark. It felt more normal than I thought it would.”
The Sox, who will have only silent cardboard cutouts in the stands and no fans to provide a buzz, have played the intrasquad scrimmages with normal gamelike energy and effort.
Walk-up songs and stadium music are piped in, and fake crowd noise — more like a crowd murmur — will be coming to all ballparks when the games begin. The Sox tried it Wednesday and Thursday.
The purpose of this MLB measure, a Sox spokesman said, is to diminish competitive advantages a team will have when, for example, a hitter hears a catcher move for pitch location.
The noise won’t match real crowd noise as an energy-booster. There’s nothing like the real thing.
“The cheering or booing gets guys to step it up a little bit,” hitting coach Frank Menechino said. “I’m anxious to see if guys are going to pimp home runs as much and do all kinds of stuff as much because there’s no fans.”
Players will just have to get used to a new normal.
“If I don’t get adrenaline from the fans pitching in an empty stadium, then I’ll find the adrenaline somewhere else,” closer Alex Colome said.
“It was a little weird,” righthander Steve Cishek said after pitching in an intrasquad game with no piped-in noise. “It’s just so quiet out there. If you like the crack from a bat, then you’ll really love being here in an empty stadium because it just echoes for days. It’s a little awkward, but it’s kind of fun.”
Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez said the silence could present other challenges, such as hearing what opponents are saying more easily. Perhaps the background noise will help.
“I realized [in the intrasquad games] that you can hear everything on the mound,” Lopez said. “That’s something the other teams are going to take advantage of because they’re going to try to distract the pitcher, just saying stuff.”
There will be no real fans saying stuff, but just knowing the games are televised will inject energy, bench coach Joe McEwing said. Benetti hopes that will turn out to be true.
“There might be more, ‘Hey, let’s put on a good show for everybody,’ ’’ Benetti said. “Maybe this is Pollyannaish, but I think it might slide in that there is more duty to the game.”
Sox play-by-play man Jason Benetti (above) said the atmosphere without fans felt more normal than he thought it would. Pitcher Steve Cishek said it was a little awkward but kind of fun.