The Milwaukee Brewers start their coronavirus-shortened 60-game baseball season Friday evening in Chicago against the Cubs. For now, there won't be any fans in the stands, either at away games or July 31, when home games start at Miller Park.
But baseball will try to make it sound like fans are at the stadiums.
The Brewers just wrapped up a few weeks of what would normally be called spring training, except this year it was summer camp. The team webcast some of its intrasquad games at Miller Park, complete with announcers describing the action.
Normally, fans might have been let in to cheer on their Brew Crew. But there were no fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Home runs clunked off the empty bleacher seats.
There won't be any fans at the regular-season games, either, at least not now. What there will be is recorded cheering.
What the Brewers call game entertainment is under the management of the team's Senior Vice President for Brand Experience, Teddy Werner. Usually, in-game doings are things like the sausage race or the actions of mascot Bernie Brewer. But with no fans around, Werner says the focus is on the baseball players, and he says the athletes want crowd sound.
"A constant din, so they're not hearing cars on the highway, and they're not hearing folks in the other dugout. From Major League Baseball [headquarters in New York], we got a tablet, basically an iPad, about a week ago that was loaded with a bunch of audio files,” Werner told news reporters Thursday.
Werner says the files run the gamut from modest cheers for a base hit early in the game, to a loud roar for a game-winning home run.
He says players also want more music piped in during games. Werner says the volume of the music and crowd noise will be up to the team. He says Manager Craig Counsell has spelled out one limit.
"If he needs to communicate with an umpire and he wants to yell, but that umpire can still hear him, that you know that crowd noise is at the right level,” Werner said.
Baseball games also typically include booing, usually of the umpires or visiting team. But Werner says no booing this year.
"I think a lot of that is rooted in, it's not authentic, right? You have a club employee [who's running the sound unit,] making that decision. So, it was a lot easier for Major League Baseball to say across the board, there can be no negativity,” Werner said.
He says there can be some disappointment, like for when a Brewer falls just short of hitting a home run, but only via piped in groans.
It won't all be artificial. Werner says the team's organist, Dean Rosko, will be playing at Miller Park.
Werner says people listening to games on the radio will be able to hear the music and artificial fan noise while on cable TV. Fox Sports may also be adding its own crowd sounds.
TV and radio ratings and comments on social media will give some idea of what fans think of all the production and the season itself. Brewers President of Business Operations Rick Schlesinger sees an upside in the team only playing 60 games in the regular season instead of the normal 162.
"Think about it, every game has an impact of maybe close to three games. So, there is a sense of urgency from our players that every game matters,” Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger says the Brewers want to make the playoffs and win a World Series. Many fans hope for that level of success, even if it's a short season and they have to follow much or all of it from their couch.