I thought it would be hard for the White Sox to play a game against the Orioles amid soul-shaking unrest in Baltimore that didn't seem ghoulishly out of place, but a rushed Wednesday day game closed to the public--the first of its kind in any recorded MLB history--is just the kind of surreal that can slide along with the rest of this week in the Charm City.
Excluding the fans seems at its core, self-defeating (what is a ball game without the fans?) but also speaks to how far we've moved beyond the simple setup of putting on show to draw people through the turnstiles, to the more adult concerns of churning through a marathon schedule, fulfilling TV contract obligations, and getting to the next town. They don't need gate receipts to fill out the bills every month. They certainly don't need to win over the hearts of an aggrieved and distracted Baltimore populace to complete the needs of their trip.
It's still a bizarre fix. The Orioles' relations with the Washington Nationals are reportedly acrimonious enough that they never even inquired about playing in DC. A doubleheader a month from Tuesday will fill out the rest of the series, they just have to play one game on the edge of the void before going back to business as usual.
We've been staring at games developed for public presentation for so long, it will be fascinating to see what elements are stripped away at the first opportunity. Walk-up songs and fireworks seem like the obvious things that will be scrapped for the day, but how much more subdued do players become without the energy and attention of a live audience? How does communication geared around secretively passing instructions amid crowd noise change? Does it at all? How many other ceremonial items like this will they cling to for normalcy?
Lurid curiosity is definitely ruling the day, since Morosi is also reporting that the Orioles have received more credential requests than they have spots. Also Morosi, a national reporter, is there, which is telling enough for a game between two slow-starting ballclubs. Because of this, a game that offers the possibility of being jarringly intimate--manager-umpire fights audible, players being able to hear announcers, cracks of the bat echoing through the park like gunshots--will also be a media circus, with everyone getting blitzed with questions about how weird it was, a self-fulfilling line of inquiry since this will also be the most covered game of the season for both teams.
Hawk is a element. He repeatedly and firmly endorsed the conduct of the Chicago Police during the NATO protests a few years back--something far less relevant to current protests and riots to the proceedings he was being paid to observe at the time --and it's not hard to map out his reaction to the events of the past week from there. It would stand to reason that he would be approached about how to handle such a sensitive and widely-monitored broadcast, but this is the same guy who bragged in a recent profile about how he wants to remain unbowed from the type of instincts that lead him to physically confront members of opposing teams for on-field conduct. There's an element of dread to imagining what he might say or prescription he would offer, which is the most normal thing about this game.
Mostly, MLB is ill-equipped to develop an appropriate response to this situation. They're the wrong organization to put together any kind of cogent statement about the elements at play here, and the teams, coaches and players involved are at best going to seem underinformed and uninvested in their surroundings if questioned on them. Even the journalists present are being yanked out of their element. Things will be better when MLB and the White Sox get the hell out of Baltimore. At least they seem to be expediting the process.