Max Scherzer sat in Diamond Club seats and seethed in 2020.
At first, he thought he would be jettisoned from the stadium on days he was not pitching. Major League Baseball lifted that protocol. But, he was not allowed into the dugout when not in the game, taking away his preferred angle to watch, banter with teammates and the opportunity to run onto the field to celebrate a walk-off that wasn’t a walk-off.
Scherzer was in the stands because fans were not. No fans attended regular-season games in 2020, though Commissioner Rob Manfred said they could have allowed a portion of fans into certain stadiums had they chosen to. Instead, MLB was trying to maximize its opportunity to get through the regular season and into its revenue-boosting postseason. They made it, fans attended the NLCS and World Series and a model for next season was born.
In Scherzer’s view, MLB should allow fans into stadiums next season.
“I’ve said this from the beginning: I’ve always thought we can at least have some portion of the fans attend games, especially when we’re talking about outdoor stadiums here,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “Understanding the science, understanding the transmission and how this manifests itself, I fully believe you can have fans in the stands. Obviously it’s not going to be full capacity. We’re going to need some time for that vaccine to roll out before we can start having that conversation about full capacity. But even from the beginning, even from spring training we can start talking about how we can get fans into the stands and engineer ways to mitigate any type of spread.
“But if you’re outside and you’re following the rules, there’s no reason for me to sit here and say fans can’t be in the stands.”
Dealing with the lack of fans sent Scherzer into a mental place where he worked daily to get around it. His entrance music still played when he made starts, he still circled the mound after strikeouts. But there was no juice. The fake crowd noise -- tinny, fluctuating yet beneficial -- helped improve the environment at hollow stadiums. And it may not have been even hearing fans in the literal sense that was so lacking. Not feeling them was a byproduct of their absence. There were times the Nationals would begin a rally and players in the dugout lamented not having an ever-louder stadium environment with them.
“There’s two folds to this,” Scherzer said. “One, yeah, it stinks (laughs). Everybody was there [at empty stadiums]. It stinks. We love having fans in the stands. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Playing in it? You had to get over it. You had to let that go. You had to go out there and compete. We were playing for a World Series and if you’re going to win, you have to find a way to win in that environment. It’s kind of a Catch-22. One, yeah, it’s painfully obvious it was definitely something we didn’t like. But you had to just get over it. Hopefully we don’t have to deal with that again.”