Starting the baseball season in April in the Northeast can be akin to taking a cake out of the oven before it’s done, or putting up the Christmas lights two weeks before Thanksgiving.
The atmosphere sometimes doesn’t feel as if it’s quite in the mood for the smells of grass and leather and the cracks of bats, and peanuts or Cracker Jacks, and its behavior often betrays its disapproval. The Phillies once won an opener in New York by forfeit when a wild snowball fight broke out in the stands.
As for Philly, measurable snow has fallen at least once on every April day through the 16th, and temperatures have tumbled into the 20s at least once each day through the 21st. (Ever wonder why no one has written a song about “April in Philadelphia”?)
So, by historical standards Friday’s weather as the Phillies host the Oakland A’s should be quite decent, with temperatures near 60 at game time, at least partial sun, and a manageable wind about 10 mph wind blowing out toward right field, with perhaps a late-afternoon 20 mph gust.
But weather up this way is always a factor in April baseball, and this year features a wild card. Thanks to the lockout and the compressed spring training, players will be fast-forwarding their bodies from summery environments to places still entertaining the residue of winter.
Even under normal circumstances, where players have at least a few days to adjust, the transition isn’t altogether pleasant, said Larry Bowa, former Phillies all-star shortstop and manager.
“When you’re coming back from Florida,” he said, “you don’t want to get jammed or hit a ball off the end of the bat because that will sting for a while.” Sometimes it’s worse than a sting.
“When you go from hot to cold,” he said, “you see a lot of guys pulling hamstrings.”
“It has to do with elasticity,” said Struann Coleman, with HSS Sports Medicine in New York City and the Mets’ team physician. He also practices at the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia. He likened the muscle to a rubber band. “If it’s cold it can’t stretch quite as far before it breaks.”
“Colder weather tends to reduce muscle flexibility,” agreed Mufaddal M. Gombera, a sports medicine specialist at Texas Orthopedic Hospital. “At least until one has fully acclimated to the change.”
Coleman said the “majority” of hamstring injuries occur when hitters bust it out of the batter’s box heading to first. “Anecdotally, we see more hamstrings the beginning of the season,” he said, but he added that they also appear to peak in the heat, when dehydration can lead to muscle brittleness.
In April 2019, the Phillies shelved three different players for hamstring pulls.
» READ MORE: Hamstring injuries can be April hazards
Whenever they occur, they are costly: The typical stay on the injured list for a hamstring injury is 33 days, he said.
“You’ve got to be really cautious on opening day,” Bowa said. Players have to contend with routine-disrupting ceremonies. And, of course, the weather.
Here are some notable weather notes from home-openers past:
What’s with the 70s?
Sparing you any tiresome recounting of the Phillies’ losing traditions, suffice to say they haven’t exactly exploited the home-field advantage in their home openers. Their overall record is 68-72 with two ties, starting with a loss to the Providence Grays in 1883, when they debuted as the Philadelphia Quakers.
For reasons that elude biometeorology, of the 19 Philly openers played in daytime when the high temperatures were in the 70s, the Phillies lost 13 of them.
Conversely, they won five of the six played on days when the high reached 80 or better.
That includes the one July 24, 2020, the COVID-shortened season, which wasn’t the warmest. Finishing in the dead heat were the April 16, 1896, game against the Boston Beaneaters, a loss, and an April 15, 1941, win over the renamed Boston Braves. The high both days was 88.
April 8, 1982
That was the last time the Phillies postponed an opener. In deference to 3.5 inches of snow and record cold, they moved the opener back two days to the afternoon of April 8. The temperatures barely got past 40, and winds gusted from left field up to 30 mph.
» READ MORE: April snow does happen in Philly
In the first inning, leftfielder Gary Matthews collided with Gold Glove centerfielder Garry Maddox as they chased a wind-blown baseball that metamorphosed into a butterfly. Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton gave up seven runs, and Phillies bats were as cold as the fans.
April 10, 1971
The skies were threatening and the temperatures were dropping, and winds gusting past 30 mph on April 10, 1971, but with the Phillies debuting in their new palatial home, built at a cost of $350 million in today’s dollars, they were going to play come blizzard or monsoon.
“No way you’re going to postpone the first game at Veterans Stadium,” recalled Larry Shenk, who for decades ran the team’s public relations operation. “So there was no choice.”
» READ MORE: The long, winding road to Veterans Stadium
Bowa, who got the very first hit at the Vet, witnessed one of the most amazing catches he had ever seen that day. And that was right before the game, which started at 2:15.
Team promotional genius Bill Giles arranged for a helicopter to drop the first ball, with backup catcher Mike Ryan assigned to catch it. Ryan himself swirled around until he finally caught the ball near the pitcher’s mound.
“To do that was unbelievable,” Bowa said.
Ryan survived, the Phillies won, and the Vet lived for a whole 32 years. It was imploded in 2004, outlived by Rome’s Colosseum by 1,910 years, so far.