From Little League to pros, teams hoping they won’t strike out in soggy weather

Posted July 02, 2013, at 7:38 a.m.
The America East championship baseball game in May pitting UMaine against Binghamton was postponed because of bad weather conditions.
The America East championship baseball game in May pitting UMaine against Binghamton was postponed because of bad weather conditions. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Some of the top young talent in the Boston Red Sox farm system has called Hadlock Field home this year. A handful of Red Sox have passed through on injury rehabilitation assignments on their way back to Boston.

But some of the biggest cheers at Portland Sea Dogs’ games this season have erupted when the grounds crew starts to take the tarp off the field.

The tarp stayed on the field Monday night. The game against Trenton was the Sea Dogs’ third home postponement this season, just the second due to rain. They’ve also had one game suspended due to rain.

“In that regard, it isn’t (unusual). You usually get about one (postponement) per month,” said Sea Dogs executive vice president and general manager Geoff Iacuessa, who added Monday’s postponement will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader on Aug. 31. “What has been different is that we’ve been battling (the weather) so much. We’ve played a lot of games on rainy, drizzly days. There haven’t been too many games over the last month where we haven’t had to at least look at the radar at some point in the day to see if something’s going to get us.”

Throughout the spring and early summer, from the pros all the way down to Little League, coaches, players and fans have had at least one eye to the sky. One of the wettest Junes on record wreaked havoc with schedules, forced teams to move games to fields with better drainage and left coaches and managers pulling out their hair trying to juggle lineups and pitching rotations.

“It’s a big challenge, because you want to get the games in. You want to get them in because guys are here to develop, but you don’t want to get anybody hurt, either,” Iacuessa said. “Equally as important, you want to make sure the fan experience is going to be good, as well.”

Many American Legion baseball teams are building up a backlog of games on their schedules due to the rain.

In Zone 3, only one team is on pace for completing all of its games as scheduled, according to commissioner Todd Cifelli.

“Everybody should be at nine games,” Cifelli said. “You have some teams at three (or) five games played and we’re halfway through the season.”

The deluge of rainouts isn’t unprecedented. Cifelli, who coached the Gayton Post to back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011, said he can recall a similarly wet summer in 2009, “when it seemed like we played half of our season in two weeks.”

But the postponements are forcing coaches to get creative with make-ups. Zone 3 schedules its games on Tuesdays and Thursdays and doubleheaders on Saturdays. Teams are now scheduling two or three doubleheaders a week or Sunday games to catch up.

A new schedule format implemented this year also gives the zone some extra time for make-ups. But there isn’t much more room for a meddling Mother Nature.

“We’ve got a little bit of flexibility, but this will be an important two weeks for the zone, no question about it,” Cifelli said. “We can’t lose another Saturday.”

Auburn Suburban Little League’s baseball and softball majors made it through the wet spring unscathed. All-Stars are in high gear now, but their schedule allows some flexibility for rainouts. The ASLL complex is also once again hosting the four-team state Babe Ruth tournament July 18 to 21.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, that’s for sure,” ASLL president Jeff Benson said.

ASLL groundskeepers and volunteers have been busy keeping the complex in good condition to play, Benson said.

“We’re getting pretty experienced at it,” he said. “If we can get through until July 22 or 23, we’ll be very happy.”

Youth baseball leagues have to have their district and state tournaments completed by a certain date in order to send teams to regional and national tournaments.

Minor league baseball teams don’t have the same deadlines, but they do need to play as many of their 142 scheduled games as possible before the season ends on Sept. 2.

Eastern League teams have to follow league rules when deciding whether to postpone a game and, if it is postponed, setting a make-up date. Of course, as the season progresses, the schedule gets tighter.

The Sea Dogs have a doubleheader scheduled for Tuesday starting at 6 p.m. (one of the games is a make-up from the April 6 game, which was postponed due to extreme cold). With more rain expected, club officials may have to do more juggling with the schedule.

Fortunately for the Sea Dogs, the rainouts aren’t putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

“It’s been a league-wide problem,” Iacuessa said. “I can’t tell you the amount of rainouts exactly, but talking to the league president last week, he said every team has been dealing with it. It’s just the weather pattern we’re in. We’re not alone.”

But Hadlock is a lonelier place because of the rain. Much like the ski industry depends on people seeing snow in their yard to coax them to the slopes, the Sea Dogs need baseball fans to look out the window and decide it’s a great day to catch a ballgame.

“We’ve had a lot of days where it’s been raining and then it clears up for the game. But if you see the rain, it will probably prevent you from coming,” Iacuessa said. “If it’s a bright, sunny day, we definitely see a residual effect from that. We hope for a lot of sunny days.”

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