BY ALAN BURKE
---- — The frost is on the pumpkin. But what about the baseball?
Today’s World Series Game 6, should the Red Sox lose, could bring the final game to tomorrow, the last day of the month. That introduces the possibility that an unexpected rain-out could transform the October Classic to the November Classic.
What’s worse, the modern incarnation of professional baseball is played at night to accommodate television audiences, which means increasingly cold temperatures.
The decision to play the World Series at night was made in 1971, but purists still wonder if baseball was ever meant for cold weather, a time when leather gloves grow stiff, batted balls sting the hitters’ hands like a hundred angry bees, and some fans can’t stop shivering. Which raises the question — when is it too cold to play baseball?
A few North Shore baseball lovers weighed in on the subject.
“It’s never too cold to play baseball,” said Phil Sheridan, athletic director for the Peabody Public Schools. He attended Game 3 at Fenway Park (that’s the night of David Ortiz’s clutch grand-slam home run) and he intends to go tonight, as well. As a fan he knows what to expect.
“You freeze your butt,” he said, laughing.
Yet, it isn’t the cold that bothers him as much as the late hour of games set to start at 8 p.m. and then extended by longer commercial time between innings.
For all that, Sheridan is confident that the players barely notice the cold.
“This is why they play,” he said, and once they’ve made it to the World Series, “They’re not going to complain.”
Besides, if kids can tough it out, why not highly paid, well-trained athletes?
“We play (at Peabody High) in the spring when it’s less than 40 degrees and there’s a light rain,” Sheridan said.
Minas Dakos of Peabody has umpired baseball games all over the North Shore for 50 years. The cold makes a difference, he said, especially to the umpires.
“If it was very cold, I wanted to work home plate,” he said. The umpire’s chest protector gave him a little warmth, and the work of calling balls and strikes kept him moving. “The base umpire is an icicle.”
Dakos recalled an earlier time when the football season began roughly as the baseball season ended, which was early October.
“There was a line of demarcation,” he said.
When it comes to the World Series, he said, “Thank God for the flat-screen televisions. It feels like you’re there.” And all in the comfort of your living room. “If someone offered me a World Series ticket, I’d say, ‘No, thanks. I’ll watch at home.’”
Salem State baseball coach Mike Ward echoed Sheridan — it isn’t the cold he worries about but the late hours of the modern World Series.
“I wish it was in the daytime so more kids could see it,” he said.
He shrugged off concerns about the cold. “It’s all about layers,” he said with a laugh.
His own teams have literally played in the midst of falling snow. By necessity, college baseball gets started in March.
“It’s tough on the batters,” Ward said. That’s with metal bats, though Major Leaguers still use wood. “And it must be even tougher with wood.”
He attended one game of the American League Championship Series versus the Tigers. It was cold, he recalled, but he’s not complaining. “Like I said, layers.”
A major baseball fan, retired state Sen. Fred Berry has dropped his season tickets but not his passion for the game. He has a handy litmus test for when it gets too cold to play ball.
“When there are icicles on the Coca-Cola sign,” he joked.
It’s likely a lot colder in Dallas where the Texas Rangers play, Berry pointed out, but he’s happy to have the World Series here, regardless of the temperature.
“It’s basically a spring sport,” said former Salem School Superintendent Herb Levine, a veteran baseball coach. “When it gets into the 30s, I don’t know how the pitcher can grasp the ball.”
For all his concern, he finds a more intense worry is the size of the seats at Fenway Park. “They’re too darn small for me. After a few innings, I have to get up and walk around and go for an ice cream.”
This year, Levine is sending his two sons to a Series game; “Our sons have never been to a World Series.”
Now, you might think the cold is even worse for the fans, sitting passively and watching. But that doesn’t really describe Sox fans, who can get awfully worked up during a game, he noted.
“So, it’s just not as cold as you’d think,” he said. “There’s so much body heat.”
Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.