Opening day for baseball in New York... as soon as the snow melts

Mar 31, 2014

It's the first full day of the Major League Baseball season. And it's also the first day of the high school baseball season in New York.

Opening day should elicit familiar sights and sounds, like the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Not the sound of a shovel scraping ice, but that's what is more familiar as central New York baseball teams get ready to play.

This stubbornly cold spring is delaying the start of baseball season and keeping teams indoors.

At NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, the grounds crew is using all the tools it has to get the field ready for the AAA Chiefs first game on Thursday, including heat blowers under a tarp.

Dylan O'leary, a groundskeeper for the Syracuse Chiefs, clears snow off the outfield at NBT Bank Stadium.
Dylan O'leary, a groundskeeper for the Syracuse Chiefs, clears snow off the outfield at NBT Bank Stadium.
Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO

"We had two feet of snow underneath the tarp. So, we melted down about 12-14 inches, but then we just had to bite the bullet because the weather was blowing a bit," said head groundskeeper John Stewert.

Now crews are using shovels to scrape off the last few patches of snow and ice.

There's also been the work of clearing snow off the 11,000 seats in the park. The club has struggled in recent years to get fans in those seats, and this cold weather won't lend well to drawing people to the park.

A home indoors

New York's high school baseball teams don't have Stewart and his grounds crew to get their fields ready for the start of the season Monday. Many have already had to reschedule their opening game.

And the bad weather has kept teams stuck inside for practice.

Last week, the defending high school champion Baldwinsville varsity team was trying to warm up in a hallway while they waited for a gym to open up. Players had to hop over backpacks and weave through the track team, which was also confined indoors.

"This has kind of been our home," said coach David Penafeather.

The team usually begins pre-season workouts inside, but they haven't been able to get any time outside this spring, Penafeather explained.

"Sometimes we sneak out to a back parking lot; we sometimes get a chance to find a patch of grass to maybe run some ground balls or fly balls, but we haven’t had any of those chances at all with the temperature and the snow still being out there," he said.

Over at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, the varsity baseball team there also has the gymnasium blues.

"Ideally, we'd like to be outside," said coach Kevin Rockwell before a practice at the gym Thursday. His team was stuck inside all weekend too.

The Cicero-North Syracuse baseball field was still mostly snow-covered last week.
The Cicero-North Syracuse baseball field was still mostly snow-covered last week.
Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Rockwell says they basically just have to wait for Mother Nature to make their field playable, but he was optimistic now that at least the infield dirt was showing through the snow.

"If we can get out, we’ll get out," he said. "The cold really doesn’t bother us; it’s more the playing conditions. Once we can get on the field, we’re pretty much on it as long as it’s not 15 degrees out."

Once high school baseball teams can take to the field, that doesn't mean the weather will be all sun and warm. Playing can be a little tougher when it's cold, said senior catch Justin Teague.

"The first few innings, you’ll get balls and it will sting my hand a little bit. Other than that, I’ll try to run between innings to stay loose," he said. "I’ll try to dress warm and I’ll have the gear to dress warm so it’s not too bad."

Whether it’s making a sliding catch in a still frozen outfield, or picking a ground ball out of a mud puddle, one thing is sure for these guys: this is just what spring baseball is when you live in the Northeast.