Players cool on warm World Series site

Originally Published: October 25, 2006
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- A steady rain fell Wednesday night in St. Louis, and the air was so raw and damp, the 46 degree temperature displayed on the Busch Stadium scoreboard seemed like someone's idea of a practical joke.

How cold was it? At one point, Fredbird the Cardinal mascot was reportedly heard complaining of numbness in his extremities.

Detroit and St. Louis hope to resume play Thursday amid a 70 percent chance of rain, and Friday, with forecasters predicting that two inches of rain could fall. Then the series shifts to Detroit, where the temperatures will be more suitable to Siberian Huskies than Tigers and Cardinals.

The greenhouse effect is officially on hiatus.

While managers Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland assessed the impact of a Game 4 postponement on their pitching plans, we at ESPN.com decided to focus on more practical concerns: Namely, envisioning a scenario under which baseball's Fall Classic would be in the books before, say, Veterans Day.

So we surveyed eight World Series participants -- four Cardinals and four Tigers -- about a concept that's batted around every now and then and never taken seriously by anyone.

Specifically, how would they feel about Major League Baseball junking tradition and playing the World Series at a neutral site, where conditions are comfortable for players and fans, and the executives at Fox don't have to monitor the Doppler radar as diligently as the Nielsen ratings?

Only one of the eight, St. Louis utility infielder Jose Vizcaino, liked the idea. Vizcaino grew up in the Dominican Republic, is currently playing for his eighth big-league squad, and has a slightly lower tolerance for hypothermia now that he's 38 years old.

"I'd be OK with it," Vizcaino said. "I don't like the cold weather."

The alternate viewpoint was best expressed by St. Louis reliever Brad Thompson, who said weather is barely worth mentioning as a concern given the stakes involved.

"Right now it doesn't matter how cold it is," Thompson said. "We're in the World Series, and it feels like we're in the Bahamas."

Added St. Louis teammate Adam Wainwright, "When the alternative is to be home deciding whether it's all right to go outside and fish, this is a good problem to have."

Among some of the other viewpoints expressed:

Fan factor

This is the most common sentiment we heard: That fans in diehard baseball cities such as St. Louis and Detroit spend six months attending games, listening to talk radio, and living and dying with their teams, and it would be downright criminal to dump them for the sake of convenience at the most pulse-quickening time of year.

"It's a terrible idea," said Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke. "It would be totally unfair to Tiger fans who've had to live through misery the last 13 years. I don't think the weather in Detroit is going have any effect on whether people come out to see the Detroit Tigers or not."

Of course, given the steep price and limited availability of tickets, some would argue that fewer World Series seats are available to real fans who are inevitably squeezed out by corporate bandwagon jumpers. But as Van Slyke points out, at least the season-ticket holders are at games in October.

"If your team fights all year to get to the World Series, the whole city should be able to enjoy it," Wainwright said.

The manhood factor

Detroit catcher Vance Wilson is only 33 years old, but he knows all about the 1967 NFL Championship game, when Bart Starr sneaked over center to lead Green Bay past Dallas 21-17. They called it the "Ice Bowl" because the thermometer hit minus-13 degrees and the wind-chill was minus-48. The frigid temperatures were part of the game's enduring mystique.

Coping with adverse conditions is what makes major leaguers mentally strong, Wilson said. Champions emerge not only because they're better, but also tougher.

"I'm not a big fan of domes or teams in tough cities that build retractable roofs," Wilson said. "That's what I liked about playing for the Mets. Whether it was cold, rainy or whatever, you had to deal with the conditions.

"That's part of competing. It would be great if everything was perfect and it was 85 and sunny every day. But this game wasn't built upon that."

Inventiveness rules

Roger McDowell, pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves, recalls how it was so cold in Boston during the 1986 World Series, he and Mets teammate Jesse Orosco foraged for scraps in the Fenway Park bullpen and built a fire to keep warm.

Nothing makes a player cope with miserable weather like necessity.

"I did what Gaylord Perry did to the baseballs," Van Slyke said. "I Vaselined myself up, I coated layers and layers all over my body and it really did make a difference. It acts like blubber."

Can cold weather dictate strategy? Vizcaino recalls playing for the Chicago Cubs in 1991 and getting some valuable advice from countryman and teammate George Bell.

"George always told me, when it's cold -- really cold -- make sure you swing one time," Vizcaino said. "No foul balls, and make sure you hit the ball."

There's even a knack involved to watching games when the weather conditions are challenging. Detroit pitcher Mike Maroth, a native of Orlando, Fla, never even saw snow until he pitched for the Tigers' Triple-A farm club in Toledo. Maroth isn't pitching in the World Series because of an injury, but he says that getting the pole position on the dugout heater is of supreme importance when playing spectator.

"The gas heaters get those flames going and they can really throw out the heat," Maroth said. "They have the electric ones here and they're not very good. You practically have to sit right on them to feel any heat."

Where to play it?

Even players who oppose the idea of a neutral-site World Series were happy to share opinions on the best place to hold it should it ever happen.

Detroit closer Todd Jones is partial to a domed stadium or Maui. Maroth, Vizcaino and St. Louis reliever Jason Isringhausen all picked San Diego. And Wainwright, who lives in South Georgia, said, "How about South Georgia? That would be good for me."

Van Slyke, true to form, is thinking on a grander scale.

"The best thing they could do is build a stadium somewhere in Southern California or on the beach in Miami and use it only once a year for seven games," he said. "They could name it Lucky Seven stadium."

Van Slyke conceded that he might be able to come up with a snappier name, but he needs more time to think. In light of the weather forecast in St. Louis the next two days, free time might be the least of his concerns.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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