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Texas Rangers To Start The Season At A New But Empty Stadium

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Major League Baseball is back with a full slate of games, including the first-ever one at the Texas Rangers' new stadium. It is a sparkling $1.2 billion facility that, for now, no fans will get to enjoy in person because of the pandemic. KERA's Miranda Suarez reports on how the Rangers are trying to make a strange season seem somewhat normal.

MIRANDA SUAREZ, BYLINE: When the Rangers move to a new stadium, watch out. Something always seems to get in the way. Player strikes shortened the season when the team moved from Washington, D.C., to Texas in 1972, and again in 1994, when they switched to a new ballpark. This year, the culprit is a pandemic. And although fans can't come to games, they can get an in-person look at their team's new home by paying for a tour.

HANNAH KREBEL: All right, everyone, we're going to keep on heading this way.

SUAREZ: Hannah Krebel wears a mask and a face shield as she guides people through the new stadium.

KREBEL: Last thing - with social distancing and all the things that come with that, I'm going to ask that we try and refrain from touching things as much as possible and do not sit anywhere.

SUAREZ: She points out a lot of improvements from the old ballpark across the street. The most important ones are a retractable roof and air conditioning. It is Texas, after all. While crowds won't be able to enjoy these perks for a while, it's up to Chuck Morgan to make the games feel as normal as possible for the players. Morgan is executive vice president of ballpark entertainment and the guy who delivers the team's signature line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK MORGAN: It is baseball time in Texas.

And when somebody tells you, hey, it looks like we're not going to have any fans in the ballpark, that's just not baseball. You got to have the fans cheering and eating their hot dogs and enjoying themselves at the ballpark.

SUAREZ: So a member of Morgan's team went through old Rangers games, grabbing hundreds of hours of crowd sound. Those recordings are piped through the stadium at the right moments. The same thing is happening at stadiums across the country. This is what it sounded like when Ranger Todd Frazier came to the plate during Wednesday's exhibition game, the stands empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: And shoots this one in the air, right field, carrying pretty well. And that one is gone, just over the 326 marker in the corner.

SUAREZ: And it almost sounds like a normal ball game with the Rangers homerun song, the theme from the movie "The Natural" playing behind the canned cheering. As for the real human fans, they can't wait for baseball's return. Yasmine Larrea took the ballpark tour to celebrate her birthday. It's been a long few months.

YASMINE LARREA: It's kind of boring because we haven't got to watch any sports at all, so just watching reruns is not fun.

SUAREZ: Just because the season is starting doesn't mean it will be a normal one. Dozens of major league players have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Rangers Joey Gallo and Brett Martin. Gallo is back and in the opening day lineup and hoping to hear that fateful music. For NPR News, I'm Miranda Suarez in Arlington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.