No matter what, the 2020 Major League Baseball season is going to be weird. A smattering of star players and journeymen alike are opting not to risk COVID-19 to play ball. Workouts have commenced, then halted, amid coronavirus concerns. The season will be short—just sixty games—and we’ll almost certainly see players placed on the disabled list for a period of time if they test positive for the disease. There’ll be more divisional games, as the league attempts to reduce risks associated with travel. While MLB hasn’t fully ruled out the possibility that the games will be open to fans at some point during the truncated season, they certainly won’t be in the stands when things kick off on July 23. But in Arlington, they kind of will.
Last week, the Texas Rangers (a team whose questionable name we should have a discussion about!) announced that they’d be selling “DoppelRangers,” cardboard cutouts with fans’ faces on them that will hang out in the stands during games to simulate a full stadium. Here, take a look at what they are selling for $50.
"Be" here on Opening Day!
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) July 15, 2020
The rules are simple: deck yourself out in Rangers gear, have a friend or family member take a photo (no selfies, they can’t work with a close-up), and then, voila, your eternally smiling face will overlook home plate as the team takes on the Colorado Rockies on opening day!
This is clearly a bizarre way for sports to proceed, but that is where we are right now, and a macabre facsimile of a cheering assembly of cardboard cutout fans is the right thing for the moment. An empty stadium is eerie on its own, but an empty stadium decorated with the visages of thousands of fans, rictus grins fixed forever on their faces, is how we should be playing baseball in the summer of 2020. Will it creep out players? Probably. Will it creep out visiting teams more than the home team, as the Rangers’ own players find themselves increasingly numb to the gothic horror of playing in their team’s brand new stadium during a global pandemic? Hopefully!
Eeriness aside, this is definitely a better idea than putting actual human fans in the ballpark right now, and having them potentially risk contracting the coronavirus. Cardboard cutouts can neither contract nor spread COVID-19 (look it up!), and the motivating factor, besides making a few extra bucks while ticket sales are off the table, seems to be a sense of whimsy.
The Rangers have a series of rules for the images, but they’re pretty light. The photos have to be of you—don’t upload a picture of a celebrity unless you are, in fact, a celebrity—and don’t wear a T-shirt with a political message or a hat with cuss words on it. Seats are assigned at random, but everyone will be behind home plate. If the program turns out to be popular, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more sections of the stadium opened up to hosting frozen and immobile cutouts, and perhaps occasionally beheaded by a line drive.
The “DoppelRangers” will remain for the duration of the season, and at the season’s conclusion, fans can visit the ballpark to bring home their cardboard avatar, where it can creep out their friends and family until it biodegrades, or gets eaten by a beloved family pet, or the inevitable heat death of the universe, or whatever. This is a strange time! Who knows, maybe they’ll outlive us all. Play ball!