TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
The final act of baseball's strangest season begins tonight in a unique setting. The Los Angeles Dodgers play the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the World Series. And for the first time since 1944, all of the games will happen at a single site to reduce the coronavirus risk. But there will be familiar sights and sounds at the neutral ballpark in Arlington, Texas - real baseball fans. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: One byproduct of the no-fan regular season - the ability at times to hear every utterance on the field, including the stuff broadcasters try to clean up.
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UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #1: [Expletive].
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: We apologize.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Ground number two.
UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #2: [Expletive].
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: ...Boom for the second out.
UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #3: [Expletive].
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Sorry.
GOLDMAN: Good news for all those harried commentators - fans and all their curse-canceling noise are back.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #4: Thanks for coming to tonight's game. It is baseball time in Texas.
GOLDMAN: They actually came back before the World Series. The stadium in Arlington was about a quarter full for all seven of the National League Championship Series games between Los Angeles and Atlanta. Tim Ciesco from Arlington was there for game one.
TIM CIESCO: Even with the limited crowd, I think at this point I was just so happy that I got to go out and see a live sporting event. To me, the evening was perfect with all its imperfections, I guess.
GOLDMAN: COVID protocols required him to wear a mask, except when eating or drinking. Ushers roamed the stands reminding people. He could sit only in his pod, four seats next to each other. His pod was at one end of a row. There was a different pod at the other end with about a dozen free seats in between zip-tied to keep people out of them.
CIESCO: I never felt, wow, this was a bad decision on my part; I shouldn't have come here.
GOLDMAN: While World Series fans adjust to the same restrictions, one team on the field will adjust to fans. Tampa Bay played its American League Championship Series in California, where state law doesn't allow spectators at events. In Texas, the Rays will play in front of people for the first time this season. Rays shortstop Willy Adames embraces the mantra of pandemic baseball - be flexible.
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WILLY ADAMES: Whatever is the situation, you have to adjust and, you know, continue to do what you have to do to stay here. And, you know, now that we're going to play in front of fans, it's going to be exciting again.
GOLDMAN: Baseball's excited to get at least some World Series customers in seats, buying tickets, concessions, merchandise. A quarter-filled park is better and more lucrative than nothing and a chance to end an abnormal season a bit more normally.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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