Mis­er­ably cold April bites MLB

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS / BASEBALL - Bob Night­en­gale Columnist

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It could have been Ma­jor League Base­ball’s worst night­mare, a calamity of epic pro­por­tions.

In­stead, the folks at MLB mer­ci­fully changed their minds and pre­served the great­est mar­ket­ing com­mod­ity in the game.

MLB, af­ter ini­tially re­ject­ing the Kansas City Roy­als’ re­quest, post­poned their game Sun­day against the Los An­ge­les An­gels.

Yes, the game Sho­hei Ohtani was sched­uled to pitch.

Several play­ers won­dered aloud ear­lier in the day whether they had to play sim­ply be­cause Ohtani was sched­uled to start for the An­gels, in front of a na­tional TV au­di­ence on Jackie Robin­son Day.

Twenty-five min­utes be­fore Sho­hei Time, the show was can­celed.

Can you imag­ine MLB try­ing to ex­plain it­self if Ohtani had in­jured him­self pitch­ing in the 35-de­gree weather with a 21-de­gree wind chill?

“I was a lit­tle wor­ried about pitch­ing in the cold weather,” Ohtani con­ceded af­ter the post­pone­ment. “I couldn’t feel my fin­ger­tips. I couldn’t feel the ball. It was a con­cern of mine.”

So now Sun­days With Sho­hei will turn to Tues­day Nights With Ohtani.

He’ll start Tues­day against the Bos­ton Red Sox at An­gel Sta­dium, and con­ceiv­ably ev­ery Tues­day in the fu­ture, un­til, of course, the next An­gels game is can­celed be­cause of weather.

There have been 22 post­pone­ments this sea­son, in­clud­ing six on Sun­day. It’s the sec­ond-most post­pone­ments MLB has had through April since 2000, and the month is only half over.

The 22nd post­pone­ment will rob Bos­ton of its finest April tra­di­tion — the Pa­tri­ots Day game at Fen­way Park run­ning con­cur­rently with the Bos­ton Marathon, the first such post­pone­ment since 1984.

“It’s the topic of ev­ery press con­fer­ence we’ve had with the ex­cep­tion of two (games),” Roy­als man­ager Ned Yost said. “It’s cold. You look at the game they had in Chicago (Satur­day) with At­lanta, and it was bit­ter, bit­ter cold there.”

It prompted Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don to blast MLB af­ter his team’s 14-10 vic­tory, say­ing the game at Wrigley Field never should have been played with it be­ing 38 de­grees with a 28-de­gree wind chill at game time and rainy con­di­tions.

“That’s not base­ball weather,” Mad­don said. “The el­e­ments were hor­rific to play base­ball. It’s not con­ducive.

“We’ll do what we’re asked or told to, but those were the worst el­e­ments I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in a game. Ever. And I’ve been in some pretty bad stuff.”

The weather in Kansas City was ex­pected to be a bit warmer than in Chicago, with the Braves-Cubs game post­poned ear­lier in the day, but it’s hardly con­ducive to base­ball when An­gels Al­lS­tar cen­ter fielder Mike Trout, wear­ing a black ski mask, joked that he wanted to drag a space heater into cen­ter field to keep warm.

“If there was no wind, we would have played,” An­gels man­ager Mike Scios­cia said. “We played in 33-de­gree weather be­fore. But that wind made it bit­ter. MLB made the right de­ci­sion.”

The de­ci­sion just came later than it should have af­ter ini­tially deny­ing the Roy­als’ ef­fort to post­pone it.

“We had in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions about it, and we talked about it with MLB,” Roy­als GM Day­ton Moore said, “but they made it very clear that un­less there’s rain or snow, the game will be played. We’re in a very unique and ab­nor­mal weather pat­tern. It’s not fun for any­body.”

Just ask the Min­ne­sota Twins, who had their en­tire week­end se­ries with the Chicago White Sox wiped out by snow, al­ready leav­ing them with five post­pone­ments in the first two weeks.

Cer­tainly, no one is blam­ing any­one for base­ball’s cruel spring, but then again, if the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment al­ready wasn’t badly flawed for the play­ers, they now have to live with the fact that the union bar­gained for four ex­tra days of rest dur­ing the sea­son. MLB, try­ing to avoid play­ing games in Novem­ber, ad­hered by start­ing the sea­son on March 29.

Oops.

Several scouts and base­ball ex­ec­u­tives thought the An­gels were tak­ing an un­nec­es­sary risk by even let­ting Ohtani start.

Ohtani grew up in cold weather, liv­ing in rural Oshu, Japan, 300 miles north of Tokyo, but he doesn’t re­mem­ber hav­ing to ever pitch in weather this cold. In Japan, pitch­ing for the Nip­pon Ham Fight­ers, their home games were in the Sap­poro Dome. In his first two starts this sea­son in Oakland and Ana­heim, the game-time tem­per­a­tures were 66 and 73 de­grees, re­spec­tively.

He wasn’t wear­ing a coat when he ar­rived at the club­house Sun­day, whether by de­sign to show he wasn’t go­ing to be in­tim­i­dated or sim­ply un­aware that not ev­ery ball­park has the same weather as Cal­i­for­nia.

“I don’t think it would have been an is­sue if he pitched,” Scios­cia said. “At some point, not only pitch­ers, but play­ers, have to play when the weather gets cold. Whether it’s it at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, the end of the sea­son or the play­offs, you’re go­ing to have to be in weather that’s not very com­fort­able. I don’t think it would have been an is­sue if he pitched.”

Thank­fully, we might never know, at least this sea­son.

The An­gels don’t travel to a cold­weather city again un­til May 8, with a two-day trip to Colorado, and they don’t have any games again in the Mid­west or East un­til late May.

Con­sid­er­ing the 13-3 An­gels are off to their best start in fran­chise his­tory, maybe they won’t have to deal with the cold again un­til the play­offs.

Maybe then, and only then, will we know whether the cold will have any im­pact on Ohtani.

For now, all we know for sure is that Mother Na­ture is the only thing that can stop him.

STEVEN BRANSCOMBE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Sho­hei Ohtani fans braved tem­per­a­tures in the 30s Sun­day in Kansas City, Mo., be­fore the An­gels-Roy­als game was post­poned.

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