With the coronavirus pandemic preventing fans from attending games at least initially this season, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Saturday he would be open to fan noise being played inside empty ballparks during the upcoming 60-game campaign, if only to distract from the eerie quiet that would otherwise be present.
Luckily for Hyde, infielder Hanser Alberto has done his best to provide a crowd's worth of noise throughout the first week of the team's preseason camp at Camden Yards. During Baltimore's first few intrasquad games in an empty Oriole Park, Alberto has been easily heard cheering, continuing a show of enthusiasm that became a trademark during his first year with the Orioles in 2019.
"It's not about the fans. It's all me," Alberto said. "That's me right there. I play with energy without fans or with fans in the stands. I think that's a new challenge for everyone, so we'll have to keep our focus and try to be the same guy in the clubhouse, in the dugout, outside on the field. So I think that will help because I know without fans, it's a little harder for us because you want to see that crowd over there. But without them, now we've got to make a little adjustment, try to keep the focus and be the same guy."
On the field, Alberto hopes to be the same guy as last season, as well. After bouncing among several organizations because of a series of waivers claims, he settled in Baltimore and became the only Orioles regular to hit over .300, with his .398 average against left-handed pitching being the second-best in the majors.
"To have Alberto, the energy that he brings not only for a game but for your workout, how he is in the clubhouse -- love guys with energy, and Hanser definitely has that," Hyde said. "Same guy every day. It keeps it light, for sure."
About a week after returning to his hometown of San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic following the cancellation of spring training, the city shut down, Alberto said, leaving him stuck at home to prepare for the delayed season. Eventually, the city reopened, allowing him to do some live batting practice before coming to Baltimore for the restart of camp.
Alberto said despite the pandemic, he never had doubts about playing this season, even though it meant leaving his wife, Olga, back in the Dominican Republic with their young daughters.
"It wasn't that tough a decision because that's what I do," Alberto said. "That's what we do. I play baseball, so my family knows that. I spent three months with them there, and they understand. This is my job. It's a little harder to come here and leave them there, but you know they're safe. My wife, she takes really good care of my daughters, and my whole family, they take good care of each other. I can come here and do my job without thinking of what's going on over there."
That peace of mind has enabled Alberto to provide his typical energy boost at the ballpark. But he admitted some aspects of that will be more difficult because of social distancing rules put in place to prevent the virus' spread.
"We can't get close to my teammates, so I'm that guy who's always close with them, try to joke around," Alberto said. "I can't do that anymore. I think that's the hardest one right now. But through the season, I think we're gonna learn, and hopefully, we can go back to the high-fives."
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