PHOENIX – The Arizona Diamondbacks caught their first glimpse of pandemic baseball.
Cardboard cutouts and piped in fan noise were among the oddities as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 9-2 in an exhibition game Sunday at Dodger Stadium. It was the first time Diamondbacks fans saw the team in game action since March 10 when spring training and baseball were put on pause due to COVID-19.
Team travel was one of the first challenges the team faced during pandemic baseball. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said the plane ride from Phoenix to L.A. was very quiet. Players kept to themselves and their own space on the plane.
Typically, the team would fly into the airport then go to the hotel before heading to the stadium. On this trip, the team went straight from airport to stadium. Lovullo said that abnormality may have taken the team out of its comfort zone.
The team took four buses instead of the usual two. This ensured everyone was evenly spaced apart and nobody was sitting directly in front of, behind or next to another person.
Dodger Stadium did not have fans in attendance. Instead, hundreds of cardboard cutouts were scattered throughout and advertising banners stretched across rows of seats to take up several sections.
“This place obviously gets bumping,” Lovullo said. “You didn’t feel that vibe and that heartbeat that goes along with playing games at the stadium.”
The live Dodgers public address announcer echoed throughout the stadium as each batter came to the plate. At-bats were met with cheers or jeers from the artificial crowd noise fed into the stadium.
Lovullo said he definitely noticed the difference of fake crowd noise. He said players are self-motivated but not having the fans’ excitement will be one adjustment he and the players will have to make.
“They’re all very motivated to go out and do something special,” Lovullo said. “But the crowd kind of reinforces what you’re doing well. It’s always nice to get that reinforcement from their excitement.”
Coaches and team personnel wore face coverings and did their best to physically distance themselves in the confines of the dugout. Diamondbacks third baseman Eduardo Escobar wore a mask emblazoned with the Venezuelan flag while playing defense in the field.
“It was a little bit of a challenge. From time to time I was telling coaches to separate,” Lovullo said.
Even the Diamondbacks broadcasters had to get used to an unusual experience. Arizona television and radio broadcasters called the game from a dark Chase Field. They relied on monitors carrying a video feed of the live action in L.A. to broadcast the game to the Phoenix market.
These are all the new normals of pandemic-era baseball. Fans can expect to see similar practices through October. Lovullo said the transition to the changes are awkward but is becoming more normal. The Diamondbacks will be back at it again Monday night with a second exhibition game against the Dodgers before heading to San Diego for the regular season opener.
Murray, NFL players air concerns
Players across the NFL organized a social media blitz Sunday to tackle their concerns about the start of NFL training camp. By using #WeWantToPlay, prominent NFL players aired grievances about issues surrounding training camp.
Camps are opening this week. Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans rookies were among the first to report Monday
Players that turned to social media include Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and former Cardinals running back David Johnson.
“It’s crazy to hear the NFL has yet to address major health and safety issues with training camp being 2 weeks away,” Murray tweeted. “We want to play football. Make it happen @NFL. Keep us safe! #WeWantToPlay”
Johnson tweeted a list of identifying questions players have about the protocols put into place stating, “We still don’t know if there will be daily testing, every other day testing, etc.”
Like the general public, NFL players have different takes on the issue, Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries said during a Zoom press conference in June.
“When you talk to people, everyone has a different stance. Some guys are more cautious,” Humphries said. “My wife is a diabetic, so I have to be very cautious, because she is high-risk. So I have to take things into account like that. Some guys live with their elderly mother, so they have to take those things into account.”
League-wide, rookies are scheduled to arrive Tuesday, quarterbacks and injured players on Thursday, and then the full roster on July 28.
NHL receives two positives in latest COVID-19 tests
Out of 2,618 tests that were conducted on more than 800 players, only two tests came back positive, the NHL reported Monday. That is a considerable difference from the 35 players that tested positive during voluntary workouts.
“Before you ask these guys to train and be ready, they have to be safe,” Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “I think we have done a terrific job these last two weeks of guys really bunkering down and doing the right things.”
The Coyotes will fly to Edmonton next week to compete against other Western Conference teams. Tocchet says staying healthy until that plane flight is the No. 1 priority.
“There’s another week until we get to that bubble,” he said. “It is really important that we do the right protocols, and so far guys have done a hell of a job.”
The Coyotes are scheduled to play their first game against the Nashville Predators on August 2.