Reflections on an empty stadium…

Editor’s Note: The following article — originally published in May 2015 during the unrest in Baltimore — brings a unique perspective to playing baseball in an empty stadium. With Major League Baseball and other major sports leagues now facing a similar situation due to the public health crisis, we take a look back at the thoughts of Beacon’s own Paul Zwaska…

If a home run ball leaves an empty ballpark, does it make a noise?

As I was watching the White Sox – Orioles game being played at an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I kept thinking, how weird must that be? As a former Head Groundskeeper for the Orioles, I would have loved to work this game just to hear the purest sounds of the game of baseball. How odd for the players not to hear the roar of the crowd. The only thing that would make this game a more neutral game would be to play it in a neutral city. Only the players, the press, less than a handful of scouts and the ground crew witnessed this historic event in person. No home field advantage from a crowd. Baseball historians say this has never happened before in the storied history of Major League Baseball.

For the purist, you could hear the home plate umpire bellow out the balls and strikes. When a fielder called for the fly ball, you could clearly hear it. And when a solid hit rings off the bat, that crack of the bat loudly echoed throughout the park. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hear the players heckling each other when up to bat. For the players, they miss the cheers, the boos and the heckling. There is nothing like the “sounds of a ballpark” during a game. The roar of the crowd on big plays. The sounds of the vendors hawking their beer, soda and hot dogs to the hungry masses. And the blaring of the ballpark sound system to entertain and spark the crowd. All these sounds combined provide the energy that stirs emotion in a sports fan and provides a mental stamp in the brain associating memories of the ballpark with nostalgic, wholehearted, American fun.

Few people get to experience the sounds of an empty ballpark. The grounds crew are some of that few. It can be a lonely emptiness. It’s a time normally reserved for managing and manicuring the field and the rest of the facility. Those who work in this type of a setting know that a ballpark or stadium is meant to be full of fans during an event. People go to sporting events to experience the shared joys and disappointments of the crowd.

Fans have a chance to live through and experience the emotional highs and lows, together with the other faithful fans, the other lovers of the beautiful game. And this shared experience is what makes baseball so special — it’s what makes baseball, forever, America’s game.
— Originally published May 1, 2015
orioles white sox empty ballpark

Paul Zwaska

Paul Zwaska

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been with Beacon for more than two decades. Among his many accomplishments he authored Groundskeeper University, the first online ballfield maintenance training venue. Paul continues to seek innovative ways to help groundskeepers.

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