By Tony Mangia
In just a few short months the whole world has been tossed a curveball by the coronavirus. An invisible scourge which has disrupted our lives in everything from work, travel to sports and leisure time. In the United States we are experiencing what seem like cataclysmic changes to our lives and not only adjustments to our lifestyles, but to our freedoms as well.
We know business closures and confinement are just temporary sacrifices everyone has to make and whether through ingenuity, humor or just plain stoicism, most of us have weathered the hard times with flying colors.
But exactly how short-term will these precautions be? Will we ever be able to congregate like we did before? Nobody seems to know.
Just like after 9/11, our way of life changed dramatically, but slightly over the long run when you look back. Airport security has become stricter and bothersome, but a necessary task. Thanks to the shoe bomber, even removing our shoes in line has become routine. And, just like airports, stadium security at public sporting events will see some major changes after Covid-19.
We’ve been through cultural and personal changes due to recent hardships before and have a history of overcoming adversity through adaption and innovation which someway became the norm.
WW2 brought about rationing, blackouts and other inconvenient precautionary measures, but the nation still played sports and could pack stadiums to watch them.
The terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center abruptly shut down Major League Baseball, but a week later — amongst new security designs — the league was in full swing. The National Football League followed suit and pushed their games back a week.
We coped and we overcame and professional sports went on.
But what will this pandemic bring once we are allowed to attend sporting events after we get the okay to gather en masse and what new patterns of behavior will we have to endure to enjoy the stadium experience again?
That’s a lot of “whats” and a big when.
Since Major League Baseball seems about the most logical professional sport which might be reinstated this summer, we’ll start there — and with my hometown Yankees and Mets.
This is all speculation on a lighter note and a prediction that there will be an opening day with fans this season — albeit with the new precautionary and social distancing guidelines.
Let’s imagine the anticipation of the first pitch as newly set-loose fans file out of crowded subway cars and make their way to Citi Field or Yankee Stadium — both which will have instituted unfamiliar and stricter rules to adhere — after maybe months of isolation. Never mind the logic, but will fans have to line up on little marked boxes six feet apart … after they stepped off those mobbed trains. I imagine that the event staff will all be wearing face masks — probably in home team colors — and all ticket punching will be electronic so there is no physical contact. Cash might become obsolete in stadium settings.
As you pass through the turnstile an event staffer will stick a hand-held thermometer to your forehead — checking each person’s body temperature — before allowing you to pass. A cough will never be looked at the same way as before. God forbid you clear your throat before spouting off how the Astros cheated the Yankees out of a World Series or the Mets have once again been duped out of real ownership and are whisked off to a tent with a big red cross on its side where you will be further questioned by people in haz-mat suits inside about your physical history.
The surreal apocalyptic environment will continue once inside inside the arena or stadium. There will be more of those six-foot spacing boxes at every concession stand and in the souvenir shops where over-priced Purell and official licensed team face gaiters will be big sellers. No more communal condiment tables to pump your ketchup and mustard anymore. Can’t have more hand contact spots or any mingling areas than you need. And in the men’s room, every other urinal will sealed so there is no close contact or chance of spraying your neighbor. Oh yeah, thefts of toilet paper will become rampant.
Every other seat or more will be closed off, so there will be plenty of elbow room in the stands. The empty seats will be filled with cutouts of Jerry Seinfeld at Citi Field and Chazz Palminteri at Yankee Stadium. Sorry Spike, your face will relegated to Knicks game — whether you are boycotting them or not. And in The Bleachers, like those metal pigeon repellers, the aluminum planks will be proportionately spiked to keep fans at acceptable distances. It’s not like barbed wire ever kept the Creatures from doing anything they wanted anyhow.
So now with the fan attendance cut down more than half, the roar of a crowd will become a low murmur — sort of like every Tampa Bay Rays home game at The Trop.
Fan behavior will also be monitored. High-fives after a score or good play will banned. So will fist and chest bumps. Fan celebrations will be restricted to rapid blinking at each other. There will be staff on hand — with six-foot rulers — to discipline drunk social-distance offenders and fans reviving The Wave, making sure they don’t make contact with anyone in the seats around them. And the time-honored ritual of fans passing down a hot dog or a beer from a vendor over to that poor soul seated in no-man’s land will also be a big no-no.
Baseball stadiums will be netted around the entire field to prevent fans from throwing an opponent’s home run ball back onto the field. And, sadly for Mets fans, Mr. and Mrs. Met broke up during the quarantine period together. She got tired of listening to him excitedly talk about the possibility of J-Lo becoming a team owner and his joke about Miss A-Rod pole dancing to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” — thus giving the 7th inning stretch a whole new meaning.
There will still be fun. Mascots will fire rubber gloves — with official licensed MLB team logos — from t-shirt cannons over the nets and there will be Lysol Spray Giveaway Night. Although it’s too bad the Kiss Cam will become the I’ll Just Look Endearingly At You From Six-Feet Away Cam.
But god forbid a some wiry teenager does manage to get onto the field. That will entail a complete shutdown of the game because MLB has to protect those players.
When this whole lockdown confinement is over and things get relatively back to normal, many of us will have profoundly changed forever — probably a little more introspective and lot more cautious. The idle time gave us more time to think about family, relationships, finances, politics and health. I see a kinder more grateful fan who won’t let little things bother them as much … except maybe how the cheating Astros robbed the Yankees of a World Series.
And then we can all wait for the first NFL touchdown celebration where players act out pandemic social-distancing sometime in the future.