Even with seasonably cool temperatures in the forecast, day baseball beckoned Louise Person to Midway Stadium in St. Paul on Tuesday. She sat with her husband, Bruce, four rows up from the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs dugout, dressed as if watching a college football game in November — the hood of her blue jacket pulled over her head, a tartan blanket across her lap, mittens on her hands and a warm cushion beneath her.
“I’m kind of a wimp,” she said with a laugh.
Now, it wasn’t horribly cold, certainly not like Monday night, when St. Paul Saints players and coaches shivered in the mid-30s chill. It was 44 degrees and sunny when the Saints’ Mitch Wylie delivered the first pitch of an exceedingly long day at 11 minutes past noon, the first pitch of the Saints’ day/night exhibition doubleheader with the Saltdogs and the Ibaraki Golden Golds from Japan.
The Persons, of Coon Rapids, came out for a split doubleheader of their own — the matinee game, and then an Olive Garden dinner with friends to celebrate Bruce’s birthday. The Persons, along with about 100 others at Midway, experienced something that will be familiar to Minnesota Twins fans when Chez Pohlad, or whatever the new stadium will be called, opens in 2010: daytime outdoor baseball in April, when the weather is always a crapshoot, and fleece becomes your best friend.
Most major league teams play fewer April day games than they used to, figuring they’ll draw better at night, even with school in session. Gauge it yourself. Would you rather blow off half a day of work to catch a ballgame in April, or July? Easy call. Still, April nights are so unpredictable that the Twins would be smart to play some weekday afternoons, especially if Major League Baseball insists on opening the season around April 1.
Split-admission doubleheaders the norm now
But split-admission doubleheaders, which 20 years ago were usually limited to tiny Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, have become the preferred way of making up rainouts all over baseball.
Though baseball’s overall revenue surpassed $6 billion last year, most teams, even the Twins, draw large enough crowds for individual games that single-admission doubleheaders no longer make financial sense. Last year, the Twins averaged 28,350 in a stadium that holds about 55,300. For a doubleheader, it would take an overflow crowd to match the revenue of two single games.
“That’s one area where I can’t really rip the major leagues too much,” said Saints owner Mike Veeck, son of the legendary Bill Veeck, a former executive with multiple major-league teams. “I don’t look at it like we’re stealing pennies off a dead man’s eyes.”
Make no mistake, though: Players absolutely hate day-night doubleheaders, which is why, in the majors, teams can’t schedule them without the players and the union approving.
Saints television analyst Dana Kiecker slogged through such long days when he pitched for the Red Sox in 1990 and ’91. “We went into the weight room and vote the night before,” Kiecker said of a July 1990 makeup with Kansas City, just after the All-Star Break. The Sox had little choice. It was the Royals’ last trip to Boston that season, and no one wanted to play on a mutual off-day.
The worst part, Kiecker said, was the three- to four-hour break between games. In Boston, Sox management provided a catered meal in a function room between games for the players and their families, which helped some.
Hard days for players
“Imagine someone going through a strenuous workout for an hour, then sitting down for four hours, then going through the same workout,” Kiecker said. “That’s kind of what you go through.”
The Saints, lacking a spacious clubhouse and a sumptuous banquet facility, tried to keep the day manageable. Manager George Tsamis canceled batting practice, allowing the players to sleep in and report for stretching at 11:15 a.m. “In the regular season, I don’t know if that would happen,” Tsamis said. “It depends on how we’re playing, and what mood I’m in.”
After a 7-4 victory and a postgame meal of chicken wings and french fries, players who lived in nearby apartments headed home for naps, with orders to report back by 5:30 p.m. for the 7:05 p.m. nightcap. The Saints were sloppy in the night game, committing three errors and throwing three wild pitches in a 3-2 loss.
“It’s a long day,” said center fielder Scooter Jordan, who went 3-for-9 in the doubleheader. “It’s kind of tiring. But you have a chance to get 10 or 11 at-bats and see good quality pitching, and that’s really good.”
The cold, however, is not. “I just left Texas, and it was 90 degrees,” Jordan said. “Coming up to Minnesota, that’s something you have to deal with. But the summer is really nice. I can’t wait until June.”
The brown infield grass offered a stark reminder of spring’s delayed arrival. The afternoon wasn’t so bad, though, and by the seventh inning Louise Person shed her hood. She even warmed to the idea of watching a Twins day game at this time of year, with one condition most hardy Minnesotans can relate to.
“If,” she said, “the tickets are affordable.”