The weather — 80s and still sunny — was nearly perfect Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park when Dan Baker found his seat behind his usual microphone. The Phillies were on the field, the iconic instrumental “TSOP” pumped through the speakers, and it finally felt like summer in South Philly.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Baker, spending his 48th summer as the team’s PA announcer, boomed from his perch down the first-base line. “The Phillies welcome you to Citizens Bank Park.”
But there were no fans on Tuesday for Baker to welcome as the gates to the ballpark remained locked. And Baker, due to MLB’s social-distance guidelines, is not allowed on the field before the game.
Yet Baker still did what he always does and introduced the lineups and pitchers, knowing no fans were waiting to scribble the names into their scorecards.
Hours earlier, the city announced that fans would not be allowed at games this season. So the Phillies played 10 innings of an intrasquad scrimmage and filled an empty ballpark with artificial crowd noise and Baker’s familiar voice. Tuesday felt like summer, but it offered a glimpse of what summer will look like without fans in the stands.
“I enjoyed this,” Baker said. “I would’ve preferred if he could’ve had fans, but it was nice to have baseball again. The national pastime. I think we missed it with everything that’s going on.”
The canned crowd noise felt like background noise as it was loud enough to be heard but not enough to overtake the stadium. Baker said it reminded him of the college and high school games he has called at the ballpark. This time, the players were big leaguers.
The Phillies are still adjusting the levels, and the crowd seemed to get louder as the scrimmage waned. The crowd noise will be audible on the TV broadcast, and NBC Sports Philadelphia has the capacity to pump in its own if the ballpark speakers are not clear enough.
“I thought it was good,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I asked Andrew Knapp about it. He liked it. I’d like to see them maybe use different noises during the course of a game so it’s not the same noise all the time, but I thought it was good.”
On Tuesday, they even sprinkled in the usual sounds of the ballpark like the charge horn, the slow clap, and the organ. Maybe next time someone will yell “Everybody hits.” Bryce Harper said the crowd noise provided “a little more normalcy.”
“It’s going to be a challenge for everyone,” Harper said. “But you have to remember, you’re playing for your teammates. You’re playing for the fans who are watching at home. They’re probably as excited as all get out to watch you play. I’m going to play my same game, still going to pump my fist, still going to play as hard as I can because they’re going to be doing that at home. 7:05, 1;05 or 4:05, they’re going to be watching us at home, so they deserve my best and my teammates do too.”
The Phillies used walk-up songs for each batter, played music between innings, and played Harry Kalas’ “outta here” sound bite after Scott Kingery homered. The cardboard cutouts will fill seats during the season, but on Tuesday night members of the coaching staff sat in the Diamond Club and other team employees sat in the lower bowl. The Phillie Phanatic did not make an appearance, but will be in attendance this Sunday when the Phillies play an exhibition game.
“I’m probably a little more low key than when there are fans,” Baker said. “Because you have fans reacting to it and I think that interaction creates some excitement. So you don’t get that.”
Baker was told years ago that he belonged on the field in the minutes before first pitch, not hiding in a booth high above the stadium. David Montgomery and Bill Giles, Baker said, wanted the Phillies public address announcer to be visible to fans. Baker thinks he’s the only major-league PA announcer who starts his shift on the field.
“They wanted to establish a rapport, a warmth, a friendship with the fans,” Baker said. “As opposed to the ballpark having a cold, disembodied voice. Like ‘Who is that? Where are they coming from?’ No, there’s the person. So you try to make people feel welcome.”
But this season, that voice will be tucked away. It will not be visible, but on Tuesday night it was heard. And it sounded like summer.