Saints’ split doubleheader a sample of what awaits Twins fans with outdoor baseball

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.”

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 05/01/2008 - 12:52 pm.

    Dave: Not quite sure where you’re coming from here. Let me address your points one by one.

    1. I made it clear these were exhibition games. The point was, this is an example of what the Twins are likely to do to make up rainouts once the new stadium opens — something a Twins official confirmed. This is EXACTLY the future, which is why I wrote about it.

    2. Whether the Saints have done this before is immaterial to the point I was making.

    3. Since this is 2008, 20 years ago would have been 1988, when, as you accurately pointed out, lights were installed at Wrigley. (The first night game was in August 1988.) That’s why I wrote, “20 years ago.” So I don’t get why you’re quibbling with this. You’re also right about the city limiting the number of night games, and that can get tricky. But in most cities, the “day” part of the day/night doubleheader is the makeup game.

    4. I agree, and the story pointed that out.

    5. If you talk to players, as I have, making up a rainout on the off-day is the least palatable option. No one wants to give up a day off. And since players often must approve makeup dates, I’d argue that day-nighters are more of a trend. I suspect we’ll agree to disagree on that one.

    Pat Borzi

  2. Submitted by Dave Wright on 05/01/2008 - 11:40 am.

    Sorry, some things to be clarified. You are not exactly looking at the future here.

    First of all, these were exhibition games, not regular season games. There is a big difference.

    Secondly, the Saints have done it before. (I know. I used to work there. We did it on at least two occasions I can remember.)

    Thirdly, I would like to know how Wrigley Field managed those split doubleheaders without lights. The park didn’t have any until 1988. Under their deal with the city, there is a limited scheduled of night games. (In 198, by the way, the Cubs played four doubleheaders at home — all in the afternoon.)

    Fourthly, although the union can kick about day-night doubleheaders, they don’t. It has turned out to be moneymakers for everybody. (Example: Last year’s Twins’ DH with KC. The day game was the makeup for the bridge collapse and did better than if the teams played two that night.) I know of no scheduled day-nighters in the big leagues this year.

    Finally, the trend in major league baseball is to make up the game on an off-day if possible. The Twins are doing just that in Chicago later this season.

    At best, this article is totally disingenuous. At worst, it is plain inaccurate.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/01/2008 - 09:21 pm.

    “Since this is 2008, 20 years ago would have been 1988, when, as you accurately pointed out, lights were installed at Wrigley. (The first night game was in August 1988.) That’s why I wrote, “20 years ago.” So I don’t get why you’re quibbling with this.”

    Because you were pretty much wrong: the Cubs had no day-night doubleheaders in 1988, 1989 or 1990. Gotta love retrosheet.org! (The tradition of day-night doubleheaders is pretty much limited to the Red Sox.)

    By the way, the last time players rejected a proposed makeup game was in 2004, when the Chicago Cubs rejected a day-night doubleheader against the Florida Marlins in favor of a game on an offday. Which pretty much shoots your premise all to hell.

    And teams don’t schedule day-night doubleheaders: they can request them, but the commissioner’s office must approve them. The commissioner’s office has a whole slew of criteria: they must be scheduled the next possible play day, they can’t conflict with a national TV schedule, etc. They do indeed happen, but not nearly as much as you are intimating. And it’s rather silly to try and extrapolate what the Twins will do based on what the Saints did in deciding to open the gates to a glorified scrimmage: you probably should have mentioned the two teams didn’t play with regular-season rules; for instance, there were two DHs and 10 batters in the lineup so players could get in their swings.

  4. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 05/02/2008 - 11:39 am.

    Kevin: That’s a fair first point. I should have simply said the Red Sox, whom I started covering in 1988 (hence my familiarity with their day-night tradition), and not mentioned the Cubs at all. If memory serves (and I’m sure you’ll correct me if it’s not), there was a time when the Cubs and the Red Sox were each allowed to schedule one makeup game as a day-nightr without player approval, which now that I think about it had to be in the early 1990’s rather than 1988. Sheesh; pretty dumb of me to get that wrong. And thanks for pointing out retrosheet.org, which I had never visited before and looks to be a fabulous resource. I’m guessing you must be a SABR member, hence the diligent attention to detail.

    As for your other points about day-nighters, I can only go by what players and club officials tell me: Players hate ’em; they’d rather not play makeup games on off-days; and the Twins expect to play some day-nighters once the new stadium opens. All I was trying to do was give folks an idea of what a day-nighter is like.

    Pat Borzi

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/02/2008 - 02:46 pm.

    ” I’m guessing you must be a SABR member, hence the diligent attention to detail.”

    No, just someone who writes about baseball for a living. As is Dave.

    I agree we’re likely to see some day-night doubleheaders when the new ballpark opens. Using the Saints as an example — when the Twins actually hosted one last season — was pretty misleading, IMHO.

    –Kevin

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