April Showers Bring May…Doubleheaders?

Timber Rattlers infielder Chris McFarland tries to stay warm during a game last April.  (Photo: Brad Krause)
Timber Rattlers infielder Chris McFarland tries to stay warm during a game last April. (Photo: Brad Krause)
For players making the jump to a full season team for the first time, there are plenty of challenges. More time away from home, longer road trips, an increased workload, etc. But the toughest part for Brewers prospects getting their start at Class-A Wisconsin…

“Enduring the cold weather” said Brevard County infielder Alfredo Rodriguez. Rodriguez spent last season with the Timber Rattlers and said that aside from the weather, it was an enjoyable experience. “It was cold, but other than that it was really good”

When the Milwaukee Brewers moved their Low-A affiliate from Beloit, of the Midwest League to West Virginia, of the South Atlantic League in 2005, one of the reasons they cited was better early-season weather conditions for their prospects.

Four years later the Brewers decided to bring the affiliate back to the state of Wisconsin and enter in to a partnership with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2009. While that partnership has proved to be an overwhelming success – and the positives far outweigh the negatives – the weather concerns that come with playing baseball in Wisconsin in April still remain an issue.

In their four years in West Virginia, the Brewers lost a total of twelve April games to weather. In 2013 alone, the Timber Rattlers had eleven April games either cancelled or postponed, including six straight from April 9th-April 12th.

Since becoming a Brewers affiliate in ’09, Wisconsin has seen 29 games called off in the month of April due to weather in the Midwest League. (Tuesday’s game, originally scheduled for 12:05 pm was moved to 5:05 pm and was still in limbo at the time of this writing)

The uncertainty and inability to stay in a routine can be hard on some players as they are trying to establish a rhythm early in the season.

“Getting used to that weather was a big difference” said Timber Rattlers infielder Chris McFarland. “I feel like (last year) it threw me off my game, at least that first month. I can remember one of the first plays, I fielded the ball, and as I was going to throw, I couldn’t feel the ball in my fingers. That was an error. I turned around and just checked the ball, and then I threw it late, and it was just because I couldn’t feel it and couldn’t throw the ball.”

“When I was in Wisconsin, it was really cold” said Brevard County pitcher Damien Magnifico. “I’ve never been snowed out, or it’s been too cold for a game before, so that was a first.”

The adjustment is a bit easier for some players than others, but it still is an adjustment nonetheless.

“I mean, I’ve been in the cold weather” said Brevard outfielder Jose Sermo. “I’ve played baseball in the cold weather in Washington and in Kansas, so it was just getting used to it again. My body gets used to the cold weather or the hot weather like within two days or three days.”

Outfielder Tyrone Taylor bats as snowflakes fly around him during a game in April, 2013.  (Photo: Brad Krause)
Outfielder Tyrone Taylor bats as snowflakes fly around him during a game in April, 2013. (Photo: Brad Krause)

April weather isn’t just an issue in Wisconsin however. Milwaukee’s top four affiliates have had a combined total of six games postponed already in less than two weeks. The Nashville Sounds and Huntsville Stars have each had a pair of games postponed due to weather.

The Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League have been the only team to escape a cancellation thus far, but their time will likely come as the summer months approach. It may not be snow, as in Wisconsin, but rain and humidity can become a problem in the Florida summertime.

Magnifico says he noticed the difference when he was promoted to Brevard midway through last season. That Florida humidity may have contributed to a blister issue that he developed shortly after joining the Manatees last year.

“Going down to Brevard, it was the hottest months of the season there” Magnifico said. “So it was a complete change. I’m used to the heat, but it was the humidity that kind of got me. it was just a complete change. A complete 180 from Wisconsin to Brevard weather-wise.”

Even in Arizona, where the sun shines roughly 364 days a year, there are weather concerns. When the Brewers affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League begins play in late June, the team is forced to play all of their games at night due to daytime temperatures routinely in the triple digits.

“The year that I signed, I played in Arizona where it was like 118 degrees every day” said Sermo.

Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand Danny Keller spent two seasons in Maryvale while in the Brewers organization and echoed Sermo’s sentiments.

“The weather isn’t really warm” said Keller. “Its hot! Although it is nice to not have rain or snow outs the heat does start to get to you.”

Still, most players would take the Arizona heat over the cold of Wisconsin in a heartbeat, but moving up to Wisconsin puts them one step closer on their journey to Miller Park.

Wonderful, beautiful, climate controlled (with a roof!) Miller Park.

Someday, many of these young prospects hope to call that their home, but for now, they must continue to battle the early season elements. Whether it’s the cold and snow; or rain, heat and humidity, the Brewers and their affiliates will continue to “weather the storm”, knowing that better days are on the horizon for the “Boys of Summer”.