ARLINGTON, Texas – Mike Amodei attended at least one Dodgers game per season for 54 straight years, starting with a start by Sandy Koufax in 1966. Nothing would ever stop him from keeping his streak alive, he thought – up to one unique game. The pandemic of the century put it at risk.
Although Major League Baseball managed to run a regular season of 60 games and an extended postseason, fans were banned from playing for months due to the coronavirus.
“I thought it was over,” said Amodei from the lower hall of the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field. “And then it happened.”
“This,” to put it very clearly, is the National League Championship Series, the first games fans have been allowed to play since spring practice before the pandemic broke out. Amodei, 63, took the opportunity.
A South Bend, Indiana book editor who grew up in Southern California, he bought a ticket online, got on a plane, and arrived in Texas on time for the third game on Wednesday when he witnessed it the historic 15-3 victory for the Dodgers of the Atlanta Braves.
“I’ll spend the night in a long-term car park and be back at work tomorrow,” said Amodei before the game. “But I kept the show alive.”
So also M.L.B., the approximately 10,000 paying customers in the N.L.C.S. Games at Globe Life Field where the crowd replaced the cardboard replicas of fans who had stadium seats all season.
Due to the pandemic, baseball decided to use four neutral locations for the last three rounds of the postseason to minimize travel and the risks involved, while also creating a kind of protective bubble for the teams that played well into October . The World Series will also be held at Globe Life Field next week and there will also be real people in the seats watching baseball, cheering their team, and buying beer and merchandise.
However, the lack of a real home team is another unique feature of the unusual fan experience in these playoffs. While some N.F.L. Teams, NASCAR, and some college football teams have allowed fans to return to their familiar stadiums – including the Dallas Cowboys’ domed stadium next door, which housed more than 20,000 people in each of the team’s three home games – M.L.B. invited the regular followers of postseason teams to irregular locations.
“It kind of has a Super Bowl feel to it,” said Chris Harkey, an Asheboro, NC Braves fan who flew in with wife, Lauren Breedlove, to watch Game 3. “It’s exciting to have a mix of different fans.”
Throughout the N.L.C.S. Fans in different team colors entered the stadium, which opened this year with a capacity of 40,000 but is not yet occupied. Tickets were sold in blocks of four at a distance from other blocks. Plastic straps were attached to the unavailable seats and the first rows were cordoned off.
During punch training at the first game in the series, fans stormed into the front rows, trying to find balls hit over the fence that would pool near each other. Tarpaulins were placed over these seats for later games, and yellow warning tape restricted access for fans looking for balls.
The fans generally wore masks and often kept their distance from each other. But as each game went on and the beer flowed, some masks fell around your neck as the screaming increased.
After Game 4, a 10-2 win in Atlanta, bands of seemingly drunk Braves fans, combining their booming tomahawk chants, roamed the area around the stadium as if it was 2019, and a nearby hotel lobby was with groups of exposed fans littered daydreams.
Texas, which reported about 32,000 new cases of the coronavirus in the seven days leading up to Friday’s fifth game, has 111 cases per 100,000 peoplePlace it roughly in the middle of the pack compared to other states. But like other parts of the country, Texas has seen a surge lately.
Among the more than two dozen people interviewed at the stadium over two days, no one appeared overly concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. Several stadium employees who refused to give a full interview said they were satisfied with the precautions and appreciate the work.
Tracy Springstead brought her three children to Game 3. They are California Dodgers fans who recently settled in the Dallas area and they said they thought the regulations were adequate.
“We’re pretty careful and it seems like they’re getting it right,” said Springstead. “But we wouldn’t miss that.”
The majority of the fans in the park seemed to support the Braves, with a slightly smaller contingent for the Dodgers. The third largest group consisted of jerseys and hats from the Texas Rangers, who acted as both hosts and mostly neutral observers. After all, this airplane hangar of a building was made for them.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Bruce Pittard, a Novice, Texas rancher who owns a Rangers season ticket. “Where do these Braves and Dodgers fans come from?”
Some came from Atlanta, about 800 miles east, and others from Southern California, about 1,200 miles in the opposite direction. Some came from North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Indiana, or Louisiana. Most, however, were displaced Braves and Dodgers fans who lived in the Dallas area and were full of excitement over their unexpected fortune the announcement last month that tickets for these games will be sold.
“The Dodgers came to me,” said Stephanie Gonzalez, who was attending Game 3 with her friend Maria Torres, who both wore Dodgers jerseys. “I moved here from California nine years ago. It’s like a dream come true. “
Some fans pulled jerseys from other M.L.B. teams too. The Mariners, Astros, Angels, Orioles, Rockies, Brewers, and even the old Montreal Expos were all on the N.L.C.S.
Pittard, the Novice rancher, and his brother Mark Pittard wore Cubs jerseys in honor of their favorite team. Mark Pittard realized how strange it was that the first game they played in the Rangers’ new American League Park was a playoff match between National League teams.
The gift shops were open, but Dodgers and Braves fans looked more like museum goers as they dispassionately scanned all of the Rangers equipment for sale. Dodgers and Braves merchandise available consisted of two small racks of hastily made, generic items – balls and t-shirts labeled “Globe Life Field, NLCS, 2020, Arlington, Texas” and “World Series, Arlington, Texas” . – neutral gray shirts in a neutral building with a massive gray roof.
“It looks like Petco Park and a big mall had a baby,” said Will Hicks, 41, a San Diego investor who wore a Padres mask, jersey, and hat while his Brother Sam, 35, an Astros fan, was chewing on a two-foot hot dog. You have season tickets for the Padres in the elegant Petco Park in San Diego, the A.L.C.S. Page? ˅.
“How weird is it all?” Said Will Hicks. “We’re at a game in Texas with our dad who is a Dodgers fan and Sam is listening to the Astros game at Petco. Only in 2020.”
The atmosphere inside was similar to a Mets game in April, circa 2011 – about a quarter full, only die-hard visitors were present. But after a long season without fans, people in the real uniforms were happy that paying customers were wearing a shirt at all.
“It filled me with a sense of excitement, especially at such a difficult time,” Brave’s third baseman Johan Camargo said through an interpreter. “It’s like a burst of energy and we are eternally grateful for that.”
And Harkey and Breedlove, the North Carolina couple, were happy to provide vocals for their team. They had to buy four tickets for game 3, but the other two didn’t give them away or sell them.
“You don’t want a stranger sitting there coughing all over you,” said Harkey. “But if the Braves make the World Series, I’ll definitely be back.”