Play Ball! Home Runs Drop With The Temperature

Monday, April 9th 2007, 11:53 am
By: News On 6

Along with balls, strikes and outs, baseball players are tracking different statistics these days: snowfall and wind chill.

Major League Baseball may be forced to tinker with its schedule after a weekend series in Cleveland was wiped out by a snowstorm and a cold snap forced the postponement of six games during the first week of the season.

Worried that unseasonable weather would prevent the field in Cleveland from being ready this week, baseball considered moving the Indians' series against the Los Angeles Angels from Jacobs Field to Milwaukee's Miller Park, which has a roof.

And temperatures aren't the only thing that's way down: Home runs plunged during the season's frigid first week to their lowest level since 1993, with the average dropping from 2.4 in last season's opening week to 1.8 this year. It hadn't been that low since a 1.6 average 14 years ago, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

``You can see it. Some of the swings, not the quickest at-bats,'' Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said following a game in the 20-degree wind chill of windy Chicago.

After pitching an inning Sunday at Yankee Stadium, where snow flurries fell late, Andy Pettitte was happy to get out of New York and head to Minneapolis. Yes, the forecast called for a game-time temperature of 38 degrees Monday, but the Twins play in a dome.

``I think we're all looking forward to playing in a controlled environment,'' said Pettitte, used to warmer surroundings back home in Texas. ``This is just miserable.''

Cold didn't stop Tampa Bay's Elijah Dukes, who hit his first two career homers at Yankee Stadium. He connected for his second while wearing a ski mask with a slit around the eyes just wide enough to allow him to see, looking more cat burglar than slugger.

From far away, Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. took notice and reconsidered his clothing for a scheduled trip to Cleveland and Boston.

``I pack tights and gloves,'' he said. ``I think I might go topcoat for the first time in my career for this trip.''

In damp and foggy San Francisco, Dave Roberts altered his pregame preparation.

``I spend a little more time in the hot tub to keep my body loose,'' he said.

At least he got to play.

Three games were wiped out in Cleveland, one in New York, one in Chicago and one in Detroit. Unable to play the Indians on Sunday, at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and some of their Seattle Mariners' teammate focused on the angels _ snow angels. With the green grass covered by a blanket wintry white flakes, they frolicked on the field along with Jose Vidro and Jose Lopez.

Baseball tried to work around the cold a decade ago, without great success. After enduring a snowout at Boston's Fenway Park, a snowy afternoon at Yankee Stadium and cold in Detroit and Chicago in 1996, baseball remade the schedule for 1997, using all five covered fields then in the majors and every West Coast site.

No brainer, right?

After teams in the East and Midwest got home, eight games were wiped out by weather on the season's second Saturday, raising that year's total to 17.

Draft schedules must be given to the players' association about nine months before opening day. Katy Feeney, baseball's senior vice president of scheduling, wished she had an advance forecast that early. She must deal with teams that want as many home dates in June, July and August _ when attendance is usually highest _ and clubs that don't want to spend to spend weeks on the road in April.

``They'll lose fan interest if the baseball season opens and they don't come home for an extended period of time,'' she said. ``It's like, 'Who are those guys and where did they come from?'''

That said, baseball is looking at alternatives. Bob DuPuy, the sport's chief operating officer, said outsiders are helping the sport examine its scheduling.

``Some of it is guesswork,'' he said. ``You can have bad weather the third week in April in Detroit as easily as you could have bad weather the first week.''

For AL MVP Justin Morneau, it's all relative. Spending the weekend with the Twins in Chicago wasn't nearly as frosty as some games in the minors.

``Portland, Maine, was real cold,'' he said. ``At Rochester, I remember we played one game at Syracuse to open the season and the turf was still frozen, so we were slipping around. It was like a skating rink out there.''