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Cardboard Cutouts, Loud Noises Bring Fandom To Baseball Stadiums

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Switching gears now, this week saw the return of Major League Baseball. More than four months since the pandemic forced the league to postpone the 2020 season, a shortened 60-game season kicked off Thursday with masked players and empty stadiums. No fans allowed in the stands to cheer in-person, but players will still hear this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANS CHEERING)

MARTIN: That's sound recorded from a time when ballparks were allowed to be full. Teams will pump crowd noise into stadiums this season. And instead of being there in the flesh, some fans will be attending as cardboard cutouts. Gabriel Hernandez is one of them.

GABRIEL HERNANDEZ: I'm from Oakland, Calif. And I cheer for the Oakland Athletics, currently the only team in Oakland.

MARTIN: Gabriel is a self-described diehard Oakland fan. In a normal season, he gets to 50 or 60 home games a year, arrives early for batting practice, makes YouTube videos dedicated to A's fandom and even travels to a few away series each season. But when Hernandez heard the A's would be selling custom cardboard cutouts to season ticket holders for $49 apiece, at first, it seemed ridiculous.

HERNANDEZ: But then, thinking about it, I was like, I kind of want to be there. And at least if I'm not there, at least my cardboard cutout can. So I just was like, you know, why not? Just - I was like, just do it.

MARTIN: His cutout, smiling in a green Oakland A's hoodie and hat, was there for the opening game last night, which ended in an Oakland grand slam and A's win. Meanwhile, back at home, Hernandez is going the extra mile to recreate their stadium experience in his own backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) I don't care if I ever get back, for it's root, root, root for the A's...

MARTIN: That's him with some close family and friends all in Oakland A's gear, singing along during the seventh-inning stretch.

HERNANDEZ: I pretty much turned my backyard into the Oakland Coliseum. Our fans like to have banners and flags. And so there's little fan cards that have each player on my railing. I have rally towels taped up. I have pennants, you know? I just try to take whatever bit of baseball I got left and turn it into something great because, like, you know, 2020's been a crazy year for everybody. And I just hope to make something - that little something out of nothing.

MARTIN: And in the real Oakland Coliseum, in left center field - section 137, row 27 - you can find a two-dimensional Gabriel Hernandez cheering on the only team in Oakland for the rest of the season.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELEBRATION")

KOOL AND THE GANG: (Singing) Yahoo. This is your celebration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.