Lou Holtz, looking precisely the same as he did in 1995 when I first beheld him, was just on EWTN talking about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m tired of it,’ he said. “I’m an old man.”

We’re all old men by now. My godson turned 16 in the beginning of April and is still waiting to test for his driver’s license. In terms of compiling disappointment, he is now 179 years old. I’m tired of it, too, and I’m an introvert to the point where I have walked with purposeful speed through office hallways with a file folder under my arm holding nothing other than a paperback novel, then locking myself in the ladies room for several minutes, letting people think what they would think if it bought me a chapter or two to myself. This has got to end.

There’s to be an Opening Day, but no parade; baseball games, but no fans to lay down the beat as the glove smacks and the bat cracks. Teams are piping in crowd noise. It is the ultimate in modern adult infantilization. This is what comes of 30-year-olds slouching around in “I ADULTED TODAY” hoodies. Fake crowd noise.

Listen, this isn’t about masks or lockdown orders or how many kids to drizzle into a classroom (or not.) I’m lasering in on what’s important here: Stop it with the fake crowd noise. That’s the 2020 hill upon which I lay down my life. Fake crowd noise.

Maybe it’s the history minor in me, but I want to know exactly what’s going on inside that ballpark, and what’s going on inside that ballpark isn’t people chatting about the Scoreboard Stumper or how much this helmetfull of nachos cost. It’s silence. If silence is what various city officials want to impose upon what there’s gonna be of this cram-in of a season, let there be silence. Don’t coddle us. We all saw “Tiger King” during quarantine. We’ve been through enough.

Letting silence happen has become a regular 2020 theme with me. Shut up, everybody. I include myself in this statement. Shut up and do your job, even if for the moment that job only involves being a decent human being. Lou, you’re on thin ice too.

When the NHL posted its playoff schedule, it was instantly inundated with complaining fans. At the end of the comment string one finally typed, “It’s hockey. We’ve got hockey again. Shut up.” Baseball fans aren’t particularly known for shutting up, but if we’re forcibly shut up by locked turnstiles, then let the record show it.

So if there are more birds than people roosting in the outer bleacher, mike them up. I want cooing. I refuse to be lulled into thinking beer is for sale in Section 215 when there’s no actual beer for sale. It’s just rude.

Perhaps this is a result of living a virtual life since March– we forget that actual human beings exist beyond a screen, and yell accordingly. Dave Barry just posted a funny picture of himself on Twitter with an Abraham Lincoln statue–outside, in the sun, with all kinds of air in every direction. The overwhelming reaction to this was people screaming at him to put on a mask and stand farther away from the fake Abraham Lincoln.

This is where we are now: Mask-shaming a humor columnist we’ve never met and a fake Abraham Lincoln we’ve also never met. I have a perpetually injured neck from trying to see what the woman on the little screen is telling me when it’s time to exercise. Graduation for thousands of young men and women consisted of sitting in front of a laptop in a mortarboard, good lighting, and underpants. My husband watched half a NASCAR season that existed entirely within a video game. Much as I hate other people, I’m the first to admit I need them to race actual cars, manufacture my body glitter, and shovel up after the foals.

One of the reasons we were desperate for baseball is that baseball is real. It’s a real thing. Men face other men in the face, one on one. It happens every day, or nearly so, and it happens regardless of who’s mad at which politician or health official or company that spends its days selling black beans. We have always had that to count on, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it seems we’re all unraveling a bit without it.

So let’s adult today, shut up, and face this season as it comes–with all its asterisks, DHing, and empty restrooms. It could be worse. It already has been. But now we’ve got baseball again.

45 Responses

  1. MFG

    Great article and spot on in many ways especially about “The man” Lou Holtz.
    Play ball dam it!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks! I was so glad to see Lou is still out and about.

  2. MIke Adams

    Wondered where you have been, MB.
    Thanks for the article.
    You know, in my ill-spent youth…No! this was somebody else of course:
    used to be ways to sneak into baseball and football games, or at least view them from afar like the Cubs.
    Makes me wonder….is there a way to get a real time (not tv) peak at the Reds games? Hmmmm

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s a good point about the Cubs– do they still have control over the rooftop bleachers? They might be the only MLB team with actual fans hanging around.

      • Doug Gray

        The Cubs still do control most of the rooftop seats, but those seats are also no longer providing a full view of the field since they renovated Wrigley a few years ago.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I knew you would know 🙂 Thanks Doug.

  3. Chuck Stein

    One of your best articles ever, Mary Beth!
    I concur that piped in crowd noise is one of the most idiotic things happening in already bizarre baseball season.

    • greenmtred

      No to piped-in crowd noise! Thanks for the refreshing perspective and remember the words of the brother of an acquaintance of mine: “I’m a social-distancing pioneer.”

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Ha! I want to consider myself a social distancing pioneer too!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thank you 🙂 I have Some Feelings about MLB and certain players I didn’t have during spring training, but that’s the weirdness of 2020.

  4. Don

    great writing, good representation of how I feel.

    Stop the fake noise on TV. It is distracting not enhancing to the practice games.

    It is terrible, I will watch with the volume muted if that is in real games.

    I have renewed by single team MLB.TV deal for $34.81 (special for those that canceled membership during the season delay from the regular $49.99), 58 cents a game to watch all 60 Reds games, could not beat that deal.

    I cannot image anyone thinking it adds value to the TV broadcast.

    The fake crowd is just annoying.

    Cannot wait for the games to start so there is something for people to talk about except for illness and politics.

    • Doug Gray

      The crowd noise will be there for all MLB games. It’s an MLB directive. But I think it will be far less annoying once they add in field level noise (you can hear the players, umpires, the crack of the bat, the pop of the catchers mitt) and the announcers are talking – it’ll make the crowd noise simply true background noise that you will tune out 99% of the time.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I had no idea this was an MLB directive! Thanks for bringing that in, Doug.

  5. jazzmanbbfan

    I’ve been watching the MLS is back tournament. Some of the matches have crowd noise pumped in, some don’t. It may depend on which network the match is on. ESPN didn’t have crowd noise last night. I prefer it without, being able to hear the communication between players and between the sidelines and players. Although I’m guessing they have to censor it out, the sudden silence when some player or coach tosses out some salty language is mildly annoying, like at midnight last night was it really going to offend some “sensitive” ears?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      YES, the talk between the players is one of the aspects of the game I was looking forward to hearing.

  6. Bred

    I agree this article is spot on. The fake crowd noise is fake noise. I think you captured the mood of the current times beautifully.
    Does any one know if the players have to hear it, or if they like the fake noise? I recall Votto saying to turn it off last week.

    • Doug Gray

      It is being played in the stadiums, so the players do indeed have to hear it.

      • Bred

        Glad the players have to hear the noise! Misery loves company! LOL
        Game 2 is not listed on MLB.TV. I know we can count on you for the link if there is one. What’s the start time today?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh they hear it too?! Hopefully it won’t last long if the players are already complaining.

      And thanks for the kind words, Bred.

  7. Mark Moore

    Welcome back MBE!! ?

    Fake audience noise for my favorite NPR quiz show is amusing.

    Fake baseball crowd noise is ridiculous! ?

    Let’s hope we get games in and get off to a hot start. Baseball is Life … and we needthe distraction now more than ever.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I wonder if the NHL is doing the crowd noise thing…

  8. renbutler

    The fake noise might be the inspiration for the piece, but there are other points in there that are far more meaningful — and I agree with every one of them. Except I don’t read in the ladies room. I play my backgammon app in the men’s room.

    “Play ball, go to school, type the article. Do your job.”

    Indeed.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      wait, there are backgammon apps?!
      How did we exist before the Internet?

      • jazzmanbbfan

        I play cribbage on my phone. I may need to remove it so I get some more productive things accomplished. Good thing I retired a few months ago, lol.

  9. Scott C

    Great to have you back Mary Beth. Your witty articles have been sorely missed. Making these socially distancing time even harder. Glad to ba able to read you your writing again.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      awwww thanks Scott! I’m so glad to be here. Props to Doug and the rest of the crew for keeping the site going.

  10. renbutler

    There’s something worse than fake crowd noise:

    Check out the fake crowd at the Mets/Yankees game on ESPN2 tonight. Cardboard cutouts.

    Creepy.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      THE CARDBOARD CUTOUTS HOLY CRAP.
      I need to add in about 8,0000 paragraphs about that.

  11. RedNat

    Great piece Marybeth! My biggest fear is that games without fans will be the ” new normal “. Owners may find it is not worth the risk to let us back in. Kind of like McDonald’s just relying on drive through revenue our baseball owners may just learn to rely on tv money.

    I believe as fans it will be the fight of our lives to get back into the stadium. Watching baseball with artificial noise cannot be accepted!

    • renbutler

      Fans will be back at games.

      Assuming the season runs its full course, I even see fans this year, somewhere, at some capacity.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Oh I hope that’s the case! But Canada’s not letting *its own team* into the stadium, so….

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      This feels a bit dramatic don’t ya think?

      Teams make tens of millions of dollars off of fans in the stands every year – some teams make 100-plus million from ticket/merch sales in the ballyard.

      When it’s safe to let people back in, the owners will absolutely do it. Some are already trying – see the Texas Rangers.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I’m surprised the Rangers are doing this– Texas has been slamming down on the restrictions.

      • Doug Gray

        Maybe something has changed in the last two weeks or so, but the last that I had seen was that they were trying to get ready to have some fans in the stands this season. There’s been changes in the state of course, so maybe that’s changed for now.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Last I heard MLB was throwing their hands in the air over the whole thing, but yeah, the situation changes day to day. Would be very happy to get in the ballpark at least once this year!

      • Doug Gray

        As far as MLB goes, the policy on record is that teams must follow local guidelines. So if the locality says you can have fans, then you are allowed to do so (if you want to).

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      well now I want a McMuffin.
      Thanks.

  12. Redleg75

    Thank you. The fake crowd noise is terrible. I watched a good bit of the KBO, no fake crowd noise, and it was good. The Reds game a couple of days ago sounded like a white noise machine droning on the whole game.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      When I was little, I’d happily fall asleep to the calls during West Coast games. I did not plan on doing that in the middle of the day at the age of 43.

  13. Eric

    Can I get an AMEN! I had MLB Network on tonight, and the fake crowd noise during the [email protected] game (yes, it’s come to this…I was watching these teams play each other on purpose!) was jarring when your brain goes back and forth between: A.) eyes see no fans in the stands; and B.) ears hear fans in the stands; and C.) eyes still see no fans in the stands.

    If we still had Marty & Joe, I’d say broadcast their call out into the ballpark…but we don’t. *sigh*

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I posted on Twitter that it felt like baseball would collapse without Marty– I didn’t think it actually *would*…

  14. KDJ

    Enjoyed the article. Welcome back.
    I think of sports as the closest we get to reality TV. No need to pollute it with fake crowd noise.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Anyone who has seen a proper bullpen-included brawl knows this.