Minor League Baseball players may have to dodge cold weather, snow, ice and thunderstorms instead of curveballs and fastballs to start early April.
"The first half of April is expected to be very active with a storm system crossing the country every three to four days, each of which could bring snow and ice in northern areas and possible severe thunderstorms from Texas across the southeastern United States," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said.
"Temperatures will average colder than normal, especially from the Rockies to the northern Plains and the northeastern U.S., but there will be brief spells of milder temperatures. Overall, the first half of April looks stormy with back-and-forth temperatures averaging below early April normals," Boston said.
Weather plays a big factor, especially in early season attendance, an analysis of baseball attendance data by the Number Tamer website shows. Cold weather early in the season and storm threats can result in lower attendance, even if it does not postpone games.
Of those 176 teams affiliated with Major League Baseball clubs, more than 42.5 million fans went through the turnstiles during 2015 in North America. Another 6 million fans showed up to watch independent league games.
"Weather is a huge factor in our industry, and it can negatively affect our business," Field Operations Director Ryan Hills of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said. "My goal is ensure that we can play baseball every night no matter what weather conditions come our way while providing a safe playing field."
As soon as the weather allows, crews start working on Coca-Cola Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A affiliate in the International League, in the beginning of March, Hills said.
"The infield dirt is laser-graded so that excess water will drain away from the infield," Hills said. "We use infield conditioners to absorb excess water and prevent slippery conditions. However, we do tarp the infield whenever we deem necessary to keep the field in ideal condition."
Once the Altoona Curve have completed a season at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, Pennsylvania, preparations begin for the next one, Head Groundskeeper McClain Murphy said. The Curve, a Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, play in the Eastern League.
However, outdoor preparations come to an end when the ground freezes around December.
When the field opens up for play, a complex drainage system helps to keep the field in good condition.
"Our field is sand-based with a full drainage system underneath just like a storm-water system on roadways, so we move water at a much more rapid pace than, say, your typical home lawn," Murphy explained. "We also use special blended clay on our infield skin that is designed to move water faster during an in-game rain event. We top this clay off with a clay product that acts as a sponge and can soak up almost three times its weight in water, if needed, and will also dry back out once the rain has stopped so it can be reused again instead of being replaced."
Under the Official Baseball Rules, it is the home team's decision to postpone a game due to unsuitable weather conditions or the unfit condition of the playing field. Once a game starts, the decision falls to the umpire-in-chief to postpone, delay or suspend play.
It's not even the start of the season and the weather already wiped out one game on the schedule. A spring training exhibition game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Salt Lake Bees, the parent club's Triple-A affiliate, was canceled March 22 due to a snowstorm in Salt Lake City.