Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
For whatever reason, I love the relationship between weather and major league baseball. I love listening to the announcers chat about the temperature, the breeze and the sunshine, or share conjecture about what the overhead clouds might bring. I love the community feeling of a rain delay, and the inconsequential uncertainty as together we wait it out, hoping for a first pitch to happen soon.
While most would agree that a sunny 24 degrees is the best environment to take in a ballgame, sometimes the weather gods just don’t want to comply. Fans are forced to huddle together in the freezing cold, sweat it out in the hot sun, or hide away on the concourse waiting out a storm. (Or you know, be completely terrified by whatever this is.) I’ve borrowed another fan’s sunblock during an unanticipated scorcher in Dunedin, and sorrowfully bought a Yankees sweatshirt during a frigid New York opening day. I’ve waited out three hours of pouring rain at Fenway, and a few more at Wrigley while soaked to my skin in my squishy, damp shoes. And though it can all be a little annoying, the fan camaraderie of inclement weather is actually a magical thing.
On Tuesday night, in a ballpark more than twenty times the elevation of our own weather-proof Rogers Centre, the Jays and the Rockies waited almost three hours to get the second game of their series started. First came the rain, then came the hail, and then the (rather disgusting) stadium flooding. Sleepy fans on Eastern Time periodically checked for updates, finding that members of the grounds crew were doing “snow” angels in the outfield. By the time the deluge relented and the game was ready to start, most Jays diehards were drifting off to sleep, happy to find a 14-9 win from the boys upon waking. Hell, when it was all over Gibby was surprised that anyone was still even around to do post-game interviews.
The whole dramatic affair got me thinking a lot about great moments in Toronto baseball weather history. Despite the regulated comfort of our dome, the Blue Jays have had an interesting relationship with the skies from the very start. Back when Exhibition Stadium was the team’s home from 1977 to 1989, the Canadian spring was unbearably cold, and their very first home opener became famous for being the only major league baseball game played on a field covered entirely in snow. To get that match started against the Chicago White Sox, the grounds crew got creative, clearing the field with a Zamboni borrowed from the Maple Leafs hockey team.
The snow wasn’t the only stadium peril—the wind coming off Lake Ontario was so brutal that pitchers were literally blown off balance on some of the worst days. The Baltimore Orioles even once voluntarily forfeited their game because the weather was far too much for them to endure. Summer wasn’t much better, with the hot sun baking those $2 silver metal bleacher seats. In July and August the temperature would rise to the point where an exposed thigh burn was usually imminent, so fans brought cushions to last them through nine long innings. (Some even Macgyver-ed their own out of plastic bags and newspapers.) When it rained, fans would huddle together in the concourse, watching cascades of water pool near the concession stands. By all reports the food was as terrible as the climate, which didn’t stop another intervention via nature—scavenger sea gulls from the lake invading large sections of the stadium, turning a day at the park into their personal feeding ground.
Fast-forward to July 2013, when the Jays faced a thick Chicago fog delay for a full hour in the third—eventually suffering a RA Dickey-pitched 10-6 loss on U.S. Cellular Field. Beyond the fact that it was near impossible to find the ball in the opaque sky, the game was remarkable because it preceded an eleven game winning streak for a team that had, up until that point, been slouching. The superstitious among us assumed the fog had something to do with the Jays then surprising ascent, as if they had gone into it and come out changed. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than attributing an eleven game winning streak to a team nap.)
But perhaps one of the more emotional weather-related games in recent memory was last September’s soggy yet triumphant double-header, and the return of much-missed Marcus Stroman. At the time, the Jays were 2.5 games ahead in the AL East, and had a rare opportunity to create some comfortable space between them and the Yankees in a single, marathon day. The first win went into extra innings, and ran over four and a half hours. The second, played and delayed in the ominous drizzle to a mostly (and understandably) empty stadium was Stroman’s very first start of the season. After a torn ACL during spring training threatened to put him for good, he amazingly came back that day to much fanfare, and got the win his narrative needed. The exhausting and very wet nine-hour slog was enough to make us feel optimistic about the playoffs to come.
As an outdoor game that spans three seasons of the calendar on a pretty expansive, weather-diverse continent, there have certainly been some incredible MLB stories of nature getting in the way of nine enjoyable innings. There have been floods, storms, and snow. There have been possums, midges and bees. There have even been some very baseball-esque philosophical musings about how nothing is ever really in our control. I’d bet that if a downpour had me waiting for anything else I’d probably be furious, but I can’t help but enjoy a little dramatic natural intervention every once in a while.