ARLINGTON, Texas — The 11,388 fans in attendance at Globe Life Field on Tuesday constituted the smallest crowd to attend a World Series game since 1909.
And yet, it felt like too many.
The first World Series game ever held at a neutral site was also just the eighth MLB game this season to be played in front of paying customers, following last week’s NL Championship Series on this same field. MLB limited the number of tickets sold for each game to 11,500, and they sold in a flash earlier this month.
The game, an 8-3 Dodgers blowout, wasn’t particularly competitive. But the spectacle was particularly instructive for a baseball writer by now used to the manufactured white-noise buzz of pandemic-season games at Target Field and around the AL Central.
Take that noise, for instance: I underestimated how raucous 11,000 fans can get, even in a venue built to hold four times as many customers. (And also, how much many more Dodger fans than Rays fans managed to acquire one of the scarce tickets). When a Dodger hit a home run or recorded a strikeout, the difference between this clamor and a full house was minimal. The crowd was intense, just not immense.
Visually, the reduced-capacity crowd, spread somewhat evenly around the park in socially distanced threesomes and foursomes, appeared greater than its numbers. Despite the empty seats, there were no huge empty swaths. It felt incorrect to describe it as a “small” crowd.
The energy in the ballpark was unmistakable, and made me realize how much I missed the authentic atmosphere a baseball game creates, and how much I detested the silence of 2020. It’s no wonder that MLB wanted fans to attend the series. Their presence was a welcome change, even refreshing.
I hadn’t anticipated how much I would reflexively, unconsciously recoil at the sight of so many strangers in close proximity to one another, despite the attempts to socially distance. Those attempts were particularly futile in concession lines as traffic rose, and the entrance to concourses and the ballpark itself were shoulder-to-shoulder choke points.
And while mask-wearing isn’t exactly universal in Minnesota, it’s far more widespread than in Texas. Fans were told to wear masks when they weren’t eating or drinking, a loophole that objectors, perhaps as much as one-third of the crowd, took as license to disregard the rule altogether, particularly since there were no observable attempts to enforce it.
At one point, MLB honored a group of four U.S. Air Force fighter pilots, masked up as they waved, on the scoreboard. The pilots were surrounded by a boisterous group of fans cheering and leaning in to get into the shot, nearly all maskless. The pilots’ discomfort was tangible, you might say infectious, through the screen.
Understandable, given that new cases of COVID-19 in Texas have numbered between 2,900-6,000 for every day in October. Perhaps no one who attended was contagious, their numbers weeded out by all the rote temperature-taking as fans entered the ballpark. Who knows? And here’s hoping that the virus was not spread to new victims in the stands of Globe Life Field on Tuesday.
But Game 1 of the first and hopefully only coronavirus World Series was a striking lesson in how jarring the differences in pandemic behavior remain, seven months into the U.S. outbreak, and how difficult, after all that time, it may be to shed that well-worn anxiety.