The Rockies opener Friday night was like a bizarre alternate reality. It was baseball… but not really?
There were real professional ballplayers hitting and throwing the ball around the diamond inside Coors Field. There was a stadium announcer and someone sang the national anthem, just like at an actual baseball game.
But nothing else felt real. In fact, real fans were replaced with cardboard cutouts of former Rockies greats, faces full of cardboard smiles behind home plate.
And Dinger, the team mascot, who is not a real dinosaur, was seen wearing a mask in the outfield seats. He was also there in cardboard form. Mind blown.
Because of the pandemic, the Rockies held a home opener against the Padres that will go down in history because fans weren’t able to actually see the game in person. The shortened season, which started two weeks ago, has had plenty of crowd noise, but no real crowds.
Like other teams, the Rockies are using fake, or canned, crowd noise, pumping it in through the stadium speakers whenever a Rockies player does something like get a hit or strike someone out.
Jon Gray, the Rockies starting pitcher Friday, who goes by the nickname Gray Wolf, was more like the Lone Wolf out on the mound.
“Yeah it’s weird not having that energy there,” Gray said after the game. “We’re lucky to have great fans. And they make a lot of noise and get the energy going. It was definitely different.”
“Different” is an understatement when talking about baseball this year. Even the traditional Opening Day pageantry felt unusual. Fireworks shot off after the national anthem, but no fans were around to “Ooh” and “Ahh” over them.
The pregame festivities also included a flyover by four F-16 Fighter Falcons, part of the 140th Wing Squadron of the Colorado National Guard.
That was another cool staple that fans normally go nuts over. But without people, it was just super loud noise over an empty stadium.
Like a normal game, Rockies players’ walk up songs blasted through stadium speakers when they stepped up to the plate. But during these weird pandemic games, recordings of fans sang along to Charlie Blackmon’s catchy theme song, “Your Love”, by the obscure 1980’s band The Outfield. That’s the one with the chorus that goes, “I don’t wanna lose your love tonight.”
Even though fans couldn’t actually go to the game, some baseball die-hards showed up to the ballpark. Bill Finnerty and his son John traveled to Denver from New York. The two take a baseball summer road trip every year.
“It’s a little empty, but it’s still fun to be here,” Papa Bill said. “It was interesting walking by. We would see the cameraman setting up with cameras looking down onto the field and there's not one spectator in the seats. So it's gotta be strange for everybody.”
Longtime Rockies fans George and Denise Lang of Westimster shopped inside the Rockies dugout store, which is open but requires masks. Prior to Friday, the couple had attended 19 Rockies home openers.
“And this would’ve been the 20th -- And this is what we get,” Denise Lang said with a big laugh, referring to the pandemic.
Ah yes, the pandemic. Rockies players have an eye on what’s happening in other cities. The Miami Marlins’ season is on hold because half the team tested positive for the coronavirus.
And Commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly told the players union chief that if they don’t get the virus under control within the league, the season could be shut down completely.
The threat of COVID-19 is not lost on the Rockies.
“We’re all hoping for the best,” said manager Bud Black. “We don't know how it’s all gonna play out. But I think most of us feel positive about this (season) continuing, and fighting through this.”
While baseball might not last this year, for now fans like Jerry Masotti are happy to have a distraction. He shopped in the Rockies dugout store Friday, wearing a Grateful Dead tie-dye shirt with the Rockies logo.
“I didn't realize how much I missed it until the season started,” he said. “I'm just glad that it’s back and I think it’s great what they've done to at least salvage the season.”
And now that baseball is back, with apologies to that obscure ‘80s band, fans “don’t wanna lose that love tonight.” Even if it's the fake cardboard cutout kind of love.