With a light breeze blowing on a warm summer night and a sunset-painted sky in the background, being at the ballpark seems like the perfect place to be. But sometimes weather and sports just do not get along. Not every game is picture perfect, and the University of Utah baseball team knows that dealing with tough weather conditions in Utah and on the road is just part of the game.
“The weather is so unpredictable here,” said catcher Alex Isola. “You just got to be ready.”
Isola is one of 15 Utes who call sunny California home. The obvious differences between Utah and the Golden State’s weather, like snow, can make playing baseball outside difficult.
“We’ll be out there [in California] in the winter,” Isola said. “You can go from fall to winter, no pause in between. We have to be indoors here. [There’s] snow on the ground so the fields aren’t really playable.”
The team spends a fair amount of time indoors practicing before the season starts because of weather conditions. Not being able to practice outside like other schools in warmer states could be troubling for a team that lives in a state known for mountains and skiing, but according to pitcher and Pittsburgh native Josh Lapiana, having to practice inside versus outside on the dirt does not really affect the Utes.
“Maybe for the first series or two there’s a little more of an adjustment that maybe some southern schools have an advantage,” Lapiana said. “But once you get outside and get a series or two under your belt then everybody’s on the same playing field.”
When the snow has finally melted and the Utes get to take the field to begin season play in the spring, weather becomes another story and rain gets most of the talk.
This season, the Utes have gone through several weather delays that have required games to be made up by adding an extra day on to a series, or they have had to play doubleheaders. Utah’s season opener on the road against CSU Bakersfield was postponed and made up as a doubleheader. A four-game series against the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners had a doubleheader moved up one day early because of weather conditions, and a game was also cancelled because of inclement weather. In Utah’s first conference series against the Washington Huskies, game one was postponed and made into a doubleheader, and the same thing happened in the Stanford series. In Utah’s Pac-12 home opener, rain postponed the first game. It was rescheduled to be played Sunday, but when Sunday came around a three-hour rain delay took place before the first pitch got underway. Most recently the game against the Brigham Young Cougars was cancelled and not made up due to rain.
When rainouts turn into a doubleheader, it can be hard to compete equally in back-to- back games. The Utes have struggled with that this season, and they have yet to win both games in a doubleheader.
“I think for our whole team the doubleheaders have been tough,” Isola said. “It would be nice to play three games [over the entire weekend] instead of two games in one [day] because sometimes you win that first one and then you’re drained for the second one.”
Readjusting schedules to fit the weather can affect players’ energy levels. Sometimes postponing first pitch seems to mess with a team more than it helps; other times delays can be used as extra time to prepare for the matchup. For instance, against Oregon in the final game of the series — following a three-hour rain delay and a huge victory for the Utes — head coach Bill Kinneberg was glad his team did not let the delay affect the outcome of the game in a negative way.
“I was very proud of the way they handled that and came out the first inning ready to play,” Kinneberg said. “That was probably the key to us and the fact that when the game started we were ready to go. That’s a sign of a mature ball club.”
Whether playing after a rainstorm on a damp field or while a frigid chill blows past the outfield wall and through the stadium seats, tough weather conditions are naturally a part of the game. Having to move or cancel games when that was not the original plan sometimes needs to be done for safety measures, because ultimately this is a game that weather controls when the action on the diamond can take place.