We enter another weekend in this long season where you can be at least guaranteed one thing: the home Sunday game with a 5:00 p.m. start. During the first-half of the season, the Quakes home games on Sundays are at 2:00 (as are most teams’). Once the All-Star break is reached, these game times shift to 5:00. This change is said to be of the player’s benefit, so that we do not have to play during the hottest part of the day during the summer months.
While this is a good thought in theory, there are more drawbacks for the players of playing at 5:00 than 2:00, and it seems to me that this is being primarily done to keep the fans out of the heat. For a 2:00 game, pitchers and catchers do the bullpens and drills around noon, and batting practice does not usually consist of anything more than hitting in the cage. Assuming a three-hour game, that puts us outside for five hours, from noon to 5:00. For a 5:00 game, bullpens will usually be around 3:00, with pre-game hitting, again, being done in the cages (Sundays are generally considered “fundays”: pitchers do not have their daily running, and position players do not go through early work and batting practice). Again, assuming a three-hour game, we are outside for five hours, from 3:00 to 8:00.
So, it seems that we are outside during the “cooler” part of the day. For those of you who have frequented Southern California, you know that the summer temperature at 5:00 is not much different than the temperature at 2:00. The sun does not leave the field until close to 7:00 anyway; if this is the case, then maybe the last hour of the 5:00 game starts to cool down a bit.
The sun setting poses, perhaps, the most aggravating thing about playing an early evening game: shadows. Squaring up a round ball with a round bat is already the toughest sport in the world, having to hit a ball that “flashes” from light to dark (and sometimes back to light depending on the stadium), or hit a dark ball off a bright batter’s eye only makes things more challenging. These ill-lighting effects make it very difficult to pick up rotation, and makes not only hitting more difficult, but catching as well. The worst situation is when the pitcher is in the sun and home plate is in the shadows, with the next bad situation occurring when the field and batter’s eye is bright, with the pitcher and home plate in the shadows.
For the usual 7:00 start, shadows have covered the mound and home plate, eliminating the worst shadows, with the sun getting off the field by 8:00, at the latest. During the 5:00 games, the shadows start creeping onto the field a little after 6:00 (but cover a good portion of the fans in the stands from the start, hence why I feel that saying the later start time is a benefit to the players is a copout).
Another drawback of the later Sunday games is the loss of the “mini-off days” that the early Sunday games provide. Finishing a Sunday game by 5:00 gives us the entire evening to ourselves, giving us the chance to catch a blow, especially during long streaks of consecutive games. The Sunday games that end closer to 8:00 do not give us much more time off than regular 7:00 games that end at 10:00 do.
These later start times were not done on Sundays in the Midwest League, and the humidity there during the summer can make it feel just as hot as anywhere in Southern California. I find it rare that things are ever done for the players’ best interests. While there are those that will say we have no right to complain because we are playing a game for a profession, there are plenty of injustices that go on to highlight the importance of some small positives we achieve along the way. But, the professional athlete’s livelihood ultimately lies with the support of fans. For this reason, we must be willing to make sacrifices to cater to their wishes, for without their attendance, there are no professional sports.