It's a cold, miserable day outside in Appleton today and it's only supposed to get colder, with low temperatures potentially falling into the upper 20's with high winds and the possibility of some snow falling overnight. The Brewers have the roof at Miller Park to protect them and their fans from conditions like this, but the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have no such luxury and have been forced to postpone their scheduled home game tonight.
I had the opportunity to talk to Wisconsin Assistant General Manager Aaron Hahn earlier today, and he told me the team usually doesn't make the decision to call a game this early. "It depends on the severity of the weather," Hahn said. "We typically won't call a game until game time. Things have come up in the past where it's supposed to be a terrible night, severe weather, then the sun is shining and it misses us and we could have played a game in perfect conditions."
This is Wisconsin's first rainout in 2012. Last year they had a particularly rough spring in terms of weather, with six home dates postponed in the season's first month. Hahn said the field is better prepared to absorb some extra moisture this spring than it was in 2011. "It's been pretty dry recently, it's been a dry spring, so the field can soak up a little bit more than if we had been getting rain continuous for the last month or something like that," Hahn said.
Last spring's early rainouts created a scheduling dilemma for Wisconsin. Midwest League rules say games postponed in the first half of the season must be made up in that half or not at all, so the Timber Rattlers played nine doubleheaders in April and May of 2011. At one point they played 14 games in a nine day stretch. Attempts to avoid a situation like that lead the team to do their best to start the game unless they absolutely cannot.
"We'll usually try to get it in if we can. Keep in mind we're supposed to play, scheduled to play 70 home games every year," Hahn said. "So we can't be quick on the trigger with too many because you never know."
Time Warner Cable Field is equipped with drainage to help make the field playable again quickly after a rainstorm, especially in left field where the staff and grounds crew dump water off the tarp. Sometimes, though, there's only so much that can be done. "We're not necessarily built in the greatest area for drainage, this is kind of a wetland to begin with, so drainage isn't always the greatest," Hahn said. "Our grounds crew does an excellent job getting the field ready and doing what they can to try to squeegee water and puddles and put down any drying materials that they can to help that out too."
Hahn estimated he and his staff have already pulled the tarp onto and off the field 10-15 times in 2012, and says they got an early start this year because of a mild winter and early spring.
At the end of the day, Hahn said player safety and the fan experience are the biggest priorities that help decide whether or not to postpone a game. "We want people have to a good time and enjoy themselves out here," Hahn said. "If it's just going to be a brutally cold day people aren't going to enjoy and they paid for tickets...you keep that in mind as well."
Once a game starts, the decision on whether or not to continue play or put the tarp on the field belongs to the umpires. "They work with us and our grounds crew pretty well to decide," Hahn said. "If we get a half inning break and we know we're going to get hit with some pretty severe weather, it may not be raining yet but if we don't start putting it on before it gets here we're probably not going to get it on and we'll lose at least today, if not tomorrow and the next day...so the umpires are usually very good to work with on that."
Once the tarp is on the field, Midwest League rules require the umpires to wait at least 45 minutes before calling a game.
The Timber Rattlers will make up today's rainout with a doubleheader against Burlington tomorrow at 5:05. Starting pitchers have not yet been announced but will likely be Matt Miller (who was scheduled to pitch today) and Drew Gagnon.