Ballplayers warm up for another cool season

Of Moose and Men

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2007

It is ironic that in a land where visitors only equate summer to fishing, there live some of the most devoted baseball fans to be found? We don't have stands that are packed to overflowing. The roar of the crowd doesn't carry for miles. There are no traffic jams that stretch endlessly as people try to get to the game, and people don't forfeit the last inning in an effort to avoid traffic snarls when leaving.

Peninsula Oilers fans don't throw tailgate parties, or hold rallies in the parking lot. However, it is undeniable that Oilers fans have more grit and determination to enjoy America's traditional pastime than anyone.

How can I make such a pointed statement? It's simple: Oilers fans go to Coral Seymour Memorial Park. Repeatedly.

Although I don't have any scientific evidence to back me up, I can say without too much worry of contradiction that Coral Seymour Memorial Park must be the coldest place anywhere north of the equator during baseball season. One must be determined to sit through an entire Oilers game.

Baseball as played by the Oilers is different than that played elsewhere. The rules are the same, everything is regulation, but the team's home field makes the game different.

Evidence of differences start when the team prepares for the game. Everywhere else, ballplayers run laps to stay limber. Here, the players run laps to stave off hypothermia. Our team doesn't stretch to loosen up, our team stretches to keep ice from forming.

Everywhere else, lightweight, breathable, loose knit uniforms are the standard. Our home park makes the Oilers the only club in the nation eligible for sponsorship by Carhartt Inc. If it weren't for the limited market, the Oilers would be the poster kids for a line of Gore-Tex lined, Arctic Wear Carhartt baseball warm-up jackets and uniforms.

The weather at our home field makes for tough players. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that the players and fans here are tougher than any of the ones down south.

The folks down south don't worry much about postponing or rescheduling a game. Even in the other hubs of Alaska Baseball League activity, such as Fairbanks, there will be plenty of additional warm, sunny weather. Consequently, it takes little to convince those fair weather folks they need to call off a game.

"Barry, do you see that? It looks like we could break out in a sprinkle at any moment. There was a drop of rain right there! Did you see it?"

"I sure did, Gil. Spattered right on the first base line. That's it, we've no choice but to call this game."

It's a different story here on the Kenai. If we were to wait for ideal baseball weather, we could easily miss two or three entire seasons in a row. No, by gum, at home the Oilers are playing no matter what the weather.

"Bob, it looks as if we have an Oiler warming up in the bull pen. Can you make out the number?"

"Even if he wasn't wearing the rain slicker there wouldn't be a chance in this downpour, Dan."

"I don't think it's just how heavy the rain is coming down, Bob, I think it's how the wind is driving it in sheets."

"True enough, but if we didn't have that fortunate wind, the fog might roll back in."

"You're right. It's a beautiful night for a Peninsula Oilers ball game, particularly since we're announcing it inside the broadcast booth."

As dedicated as the players may be, we fans are just shy of being certifiably insane. Really.

Down south, a baseball fan's check list goes something like this: sun block, sunglasses, official mesh club cap and T-shirt, baseball mitt. Let's compare that to what an Oilers fan packs for a trip to the park: official Oilers hooded sweater, rain slicker, flannel lined jeans, lap blanket, portable space heater.

The players on the Oilers have mitts; the fans in the stands have mittens with heater inserts. Coral Seymore Memorial Park has to be one of the few baseball operations in the world where hot chocolate and coffee sales outpace the cold beer sales.

The Peninsula Oilers ball team is one of the few in the country that could sell down quilts as fund raisers.

Oilers devotees are Darwinian in nature: We have adapted to our environment. As an example, how many ball parks can you name that maintain inflatable jumping toys which are available for the kiddies to play on, free of charge? Hey that's not smart marketing, those are necessary to keep the kids physically active to prevent chill blains.

Another example of Coral Seymore Memorial Park adaptation is the between innings "sumo wrestling." The folks who run the park have found this a good way to amuse the fans between baseball action and keep their minds off their frozen extremities.

For those who haven't been to an Oilers game, "sumo wrestling" is where two folks from the audience volunteer to don bulky suits that make them look like sumo wrestlers, and then go out on the field to stumble and flail about until one of the competitors trips and falls down.

At first, one wonders why anybody would volunteer to go out and publicly humiliate themselves in such a manner. It doesn't take long to figure it out, however. Those suits, as bulky and padded as they are, must be warm! (Rumor has it they're pre-heated as an extra enticement.)

Given all of the above, it isn't hard to understand why our team is having a hard time of it while they're on the road. Given normal home field temperatures, heat exhaustion is inevitable at anything over 70 degrees.

Hang tough, Oilers, you'll be home soon enough. We've got some good Coral Seymore Memorial Park weather lined up.

A.E. Poynor is a freelance writer who lives in Kenai.

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