MINNEAPOLIS — There was a pregame hype video of Jake Odorizzi on the scoreboard, there was walk-up music for each hitter, between innings highlights were shown and the usual between pitches nonsense blared through the sound system. What was absent on Thursday night at Target Field for the Twins’ intrasquad game were any fans.
Welcome to MLB, and all sports, during the coronavirus pandemic. This is going to take some getting used to. The Twins made no attempt to simulate normal in-game conditions during their first intrasquad game on Wednesday, so the stadium being empty only felt a bit odd. Thursday’s dry run of what it will be like at Target Field starting on July 28 against the St. Louis Cardinals seemed like something out of the Twilight Zone.
A steady stream of dialogue coming from reliever Sergio Romo in the bullpen provided comic relief but, otherwise, the noise of the in-game production was followed by nearly complete silence. As Jake Cave stepped out of the box in the fourth inning, the familiar tune of “charge” was played. One person near the field responded by yelling “charge” but otherwise … nothing.
“Big picture, I think it’s very helpful,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of having in-game elements included. “There are moments where you still feel the awkwardness of having an empty stadium, that’s inevitable. But overall it does give you, if only for some brief periods, some adrenaline, some flashes to regular-season action where you have some of the same feelings and you definitely have some of the same emotions out there. I think we’re going to spend this next month working through this. Making it as positive of an experience as we can. I’m sure it will look different in another few days, or in a week or two, but today was a good day. It definitely adds something on top of the normal instructional league kind of back field type of atmosphere.”
Odorizzi, who pitched four innings, didn’t seem to mind the lack of fans. “You know, I was pretty locked in to game mode right there,” he said. “It’s a good test to be able to flip the switch when nobody’s in the stands and see if you can do it. I think I proved to myself today that I’ll have no problem pitching this year. I mean, all that stuff I was super happy with today. The results were really good. … Once you get that mentality and the music starts playing and everything like that, the intensity just goes up automatically.”
One has to wonder what Fox Sports North plans to do when they televise games, starting with the July 24 opener against the White Sox in Chicago. Hearing the communication on the field would be interesting, but there are certain to be expletives blurted that teams and networks will frown upon being heard by the public. NBC Sports has been showing English Premier League soccer matches since June with previously taped crowd noise used to give the production some feeling of normalcy. There also has been an option to watch matches online without the noise.
Baldelli said he and some others talked about having crowd noise piped in at Target Field. “We’re going to make a ton of back and forth suggestions, discussions, we’re going to talk about it,” Baldelli said. “It was actually one of the things a few people were wondering … I think we’re going to play with it and ultimately I think we’re going to find something for that dead zone in between when the audio or the music may shut off and a pitch is thrown and there’s some action on the field. I think we’ll find a way to make something happen.”
Here are a few more notes from Thursday:
- Third baseman Josh Donaldson hit an opposite field home run to right off Lewis Thorpe in the lefthander’s second inning of work after the Twins had failed to score a run in the opening night intrasquad against Jose Berrios and Randy Dobnak. The offense accounted for three runs on Thursday against Odorizzi and Thorpe.
- Center fielder Byron Buxton, who doubled in the fourth against Odorizzi, came up later in the inning and had a 13-pitch at-bat that finally ended with a foul ball after Odorizzi had thrown 70-plus pitches in four innings. Buxton fouled off 11 pitches during the at-bat. “This is my first time really seeing hitters since spring training that are actually swinging,” Odorizzi said. “Even the live BP the other day, a lot of guys were just kind of taking. It wasn’t the same game environment. So it’s nice to see guys use at-bats and use this for what it is with us getting ready. I did things today that I wouldn’t do in normal games, what I’ve been working on and stuff like that, so I thought today went really great.”
- Odorizzi did not give up a hit through his first three innings — he did walk Nelson Cruz in the first — but he surrendered a single to Luis Arraez to lead off the fourth and then Buxton doubled to left after Cave flew to right. Arraez popped out before Cave singled to right to drive in two runs. At least it was assumed Arraez and Buxton would have scored, if they were on the bases.
- Odorizzi pitched four innings (we’ll give him the Buxton at-bat), giving up two runs, three hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Thorpe went four innings, giving up one run and one hit (the Donaldson home run), with no walks and four strikeouts.
- Relievers who got work starting in the fifth included closer Taylor Rogers, Romo and Trevor May. Judging their performances was a bit more difficult because the Twins have not been putting a full complement of fielders behind the relievers, like they do with the starters.
- Baldelli said the Twins will use Friday as “a general recovery day.” There will be an MLB medical presentation for the players, a few pitchers will play catch and five or six guys from the Taxi Squad, who have been working out at CHS Field, will take batting practice against Kenta Maeda, Devin Smeltzer and a few other pitchers.
- Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo, who both tested positive for COVID-19 during the intake process and must pass a couple of coronavirus tests before being allowed to rejoin the team, both “feel good,” according to Baldelli. Both are asymptomatic. Sano is living in a place where he is able to go outside and get exercise.