By Stuart Mitchner
I have seldom, very seldom, crossed this borderland between loneliness and fellowship. I have even been settled there longer than in loneliness itself. What a fine bustling place was Robinson Crusoe’s island in comparison!
—Franz Kafka, October 29, 1921
My bedside copy of Kafka’s Diaries 1914-1923 opened to that passage as I was adjusting to the idea of baseball being played before a virtual crowd in an empty stadium. I kept thinking of the recent New York Times photograph of a stylishly masked player batting in front of a “crowd” of cardboard cutouts at Citi Field. Why was that jumbled arrangement of forms and faces so hauntingly familiar? Why was I smiling at the thought of something so creepy, so unreal, so — Kafkaesque?
The answer came by way of the reference to “loneliness and fellowship” in the passage just quoted. Given all the precautionary no-nos the pandemic has inflicted on baseball — no spitting, no high-fives, no hugs, no fist bumps, no intimate catcher-pitcher sessions on the mound, no round-the-horn-and-back-to-the-pitcher routine after an out — who’d have thought that the no-fans challenge would lead to the invention of ballpark variations on the cover design of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Never mind the financial upside already being explored by the owners, like having fans pay to reserve a seat in the stands for cutouts of their choosing. Never mind the distraction potential, like putting an image of the opposing pitcher’s estranged wife in a key position behind home plate. What’s making me smile is the back story wherein Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, the co-creators of the Sgt. Pepper cover, left the choice of cutouts to the Beatles. Told to think of themselves posing for a photograph with a crowd of fans behind them — “the fans could be anybody, dead or alive, real or fictitious” — each Beatle was asked to make a list. more