Slugfests, quirky fake fan interactions highlight MLB's first weekend

July 27 (UPI) — The first weekend of the 2020 MLB season featured several slugfests and some peculiar interactions with fake fans made of cardboard because real supporters aren’t allowed in stadiums due to the coronavirus pandemic.

MLB’s 60-game shortened campaign began with two games Thursday before the rest of the league took the field Friday for other opening day clashes. Nearly half of the games played Saturday and Sunday were decided by three runs or fewer.

Two slugfests highlighted the action of Sunday’s series finales. The Minnesota Twins blasted the Chicago White Sox 14-2 and the Atlanta Braves dominated the New York Mets 14-1.

Those four teams combined to hit nine home runs and collect 42 hits in two games.

Nelson Cruz, 40, was one of the most-productive players of the weekend. The Twins designated hitter had a league-high three home runs, 10 RBIs and seven runs scored in three games. An additional 16 players have hit at least two home runs through the first three games of the season.

Part of the fun with home runs during the brief MLB season has been what happens to home run balls when they clear the fence. Two home runs landed in very peculiar areas inside separate MLB stadiums. The fan-bans have led to increased creativity for ball clubs when it comes to attracting viewers.

Some stadiums have been filled with virtual fans for TV broadcasts, while others have pictures of fans and animals printed on sheets of cardboard and stuffed animals affixed to seats. Several home run balls and foul balls have drilled the cardboard and put holes in the fake fans’ heads and bodies.

Homer hits dog cutout

One of the more lighthearted moments of the weekend came when Atlanta Braves right fielder Adam Duvall crushed a home run that landed in the right field stands Saturday at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens.

Duvall’s long ball came in the second inning of the 5-3 win and provided the Braves’ first run of the 2020 season. The Mets shut out the Braves 1-0 on opening day Friday in New York.

The Braves outfielder settled in against Mets pitcher Steven Matz during Saturday’s sequence. Matz was up 1-2 in the count against Duvall before he tossed in a 79.9-mph slider. Duvall crushed the pitch to right field.

The ball just cleared the right field fence before it drilled the cardboard version of third baseman Jeff McNeil’s dog, Willow.

The cutout of Duvall’s pet sat next to cardboard versions of Kali and Griffey Conforto, dogs owned by Mets outfielder Michael Conforto.

Duvall’s 350-foot homer had an exit velocity of 99.4 mph, according to Statcast.

Dodgers homer nearly decapitates cardboard fan

Cardboard dogs weren’t the only victims of home runs and foul balls over the weekend. One lucky fan had his cutout drilled by a home run during the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants game Friday in Los Angeles.

Dodgers catcher Will Smith provided that dangerous dinger in the ninth inning of the 5-4 loss at Dodger Stadium. Smith settled in against Giants relief pitcher Trevor Gott during the exchange.

The Dodgers slugger worked to get ahead 2-1 in the count before he obliterated a Gott fastball for a solo home run to center field. The ball carried over the fence, drilled a cardboard version of Dodgers fan Austin Donley and nearly ripped the head off his cardboard body.

“Hey Dodgers, do I get to keep the ball?” Donley asked on Twitter.

“Sorry I took your head off,” Smith responded. “Shoot me a [direct message] and I’ll hook it up for you.”

Smith’s 397-foot homer traveled at 106.4 mph before it made contact with Donley’s cardboard replica.

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