Giants closer Trevor Gott lost control of a 96 mph fastball in the ninth inning Tuesday night and watched from the mound as it sailed over catcher Tyler Heineman's glove and hit the backstop. Back in the broadcast booth at Oracle Park, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper chuckled.
"President Bush didn't even flinch," Krukow cracked.
The ball hit the net about five feet from cutouts of the late President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, who were longtime Houston residents. This is what baseball looks like in 2020, a year with no fans.
The cutout programs have become popular with MLB clubs, and at every stop on the three-city road trip, the Giants saw plenty of them. The Dodgers are filling up their lower deck and outfield bleachers, with cutouts of celebrity Dodger fans getting prime seats behind the plate. The Rockies filled the first three rows behind the plate with cutouts of former Rockies players and creepy mascot Dinger.
The Astros took an odd and random approach, filling two sections right behind the plate but leaving the second through fifth rows open in an adjacent section that was clearly visible on TV broadcasts. They filled one section down the right-field line, a couple of rows behind the dugout, the Crawford Boxes in left field and two sections right behind the home bullpen. The rest of the park was mostly empty.
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It was all a little confusing, especially for players who have plenty of time before and during games to look around.
"I don't really understand what they're trying to do. They have random sections in the outfield empty and then they have random sections completely full, and then they didn't fill up behind home plate," outfielder Austin Slater said. "And then the Rockies only went with ex-players and they had like 10 or 15 Todd Heltons in there, which was kind of odd. I think the way that we're doing it is probably the best, just fill up as much of the stadium as possible, starting with behind home plate and go from there."
That's what the Giants are doing at Oracle Park, with the help of a fan base that remains passionate even in what so far is another losing season. When the Giants return home tonight, they will see 5,459 additional cutouts that were installed earlier this week, bringing the total to 10,205.
The lower deck is pretty much completely filled behind the plate and down both lines, with cutouts spilling over into other sections, too. Another round of installations is happening Monday and Tuesday, with the Giants approaching 13,000 cutouts that have been installed or requested thus far.
It took some getting used to, but players are on board with the program, with both Slater and outfielder Hunter Pence recently saying that they do help when you're standing on the field in an otherwise empty park.
"Psychologically it does help to have the cardboard cutouts, as many as we do," Pence said. "For whatever reason, just knowing that the fans are excited to see themselves as a foul ball goes that way or whatever is the case, you feel kind of the spirit of the people."
Giants return to Oracle Park with more than 10,000 cutouts in stands originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area