Virtual fans get foul balls too: A’s have the first great idea for watching sports during pandemic

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

The unthinkable is about to become Major League Baseball’s reality. On July 23, the 2020 regular season will open with no fans in the ballpark.

No team had remotely considered this possibility until coronavirus forced commissioner Rob Manfred to suspend the season on March 12. But now that MLB will embark on a 60-game campaign amid a pandemic, teams are looking for creative ways to involve fans without inviting them into the ballpark.

Enter the Oakland Athletics.

If there was an award for the most creative gameplan for baseball without fans, the A’s would be leading contenders. Along with their Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants, the A’s have announced plans to place cardboard cutouts featuring photos of fans around the ballpark.

The cardboard cutout part is not exactly innovative. Sports leagues around the globe have used them to replace fans upon their returns. But the A’s have put a twist that perfectly suits baseball.

If a cardboard cutout placed in the “Foul Ball Zone” is hit by a foul ball, a souvenir baseball will be sent to the fan.

“Fans can send in a photo of themselves in A’s gear to be added to a cardboard cutout,” the announcement reads. “Coliseum Cutouts will be authenticated and recognized by MLB as official “virtual fans,” and will be placed in seats through the ballpark for the 2020 regular season. If a Foul Ball Zone cutout gets hit with a foul ball, the A’s will send a ball to the fan on the cutout.”

That’s a fun idea.

No, it doesn’t replace the thrill of actually catching a foul ball. But it does give fans a reason to tune in and focus on every pitch.

The plan will include three pricing stages. A's access members can submit photos for $49. Non-access members can do so for $89. If you want to be in the foul ball area, it will cost you $129. All fans who sign up will also receive a pair of tickets to the A’s first home exhibition game at the Coliseum in 2021. So cutout spaces will be limited.

More importantly, all proceeds from the plan will go to local charities.

The A’s also plan to fill in the seats with cutouts featuring former players and local celebrities. Who knows, maybe your likeness will be seated next to Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart or even MC Hammer?

In a baseball season that promises to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, this is a perfect example of thinking outside the box while respecting the circumstances. It will be more important than ever to involve and engage fans in new ways, and the A’s are doing just that.

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