In all seasons before this season, a major league starting pitcher was noticed immediately when he stepped out of his dugout to begin his pregame routine. He was greeted with an initial burst of cheers if he was wearing a home uniform; the fans sitting along the foul line called his name, their words and tone framed with encouragement and hope.
If he was on the road, there would be jeers, maybe a smattering of boos or shouted derision, and yes, perhaps an autograph request mixed in. Whether temporary hero or villain, he would usually move into the outfield without turning his head to the response, as if he didn't hear anything. But he heard it all, in all seasons before 2020.
This year, those voices are gone.
"I noticed it instantly," texted Ross Stripling, who started for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. "Usually running through the outfield and stretching, fans will yell things, ask for balls, etc. Usually instantly gives you butterflies as fans start to watch you."