Las Vegas 51s players, fans battle 110-plus degree temperatures


Sam Morris

Las Vegas 51s third baseman Kevin Howard wipes the sweat from his face as he seeks refuge from the heat under the dugout misters during batting practice before a game against Tacoma on Thursday.

Thu, Jul 16, 2009 (11:53 p.m.)

At 6 p.m., an hour before the Las Vegas 51s took the field, Dewey and Brenda Warner sat in the bleachers at Cashman Field, seemingly unfazed by the blistering heat on the hottest day of the year so far.

They sipped on beers in the 108 degree weather waiting for the first pitch of Las Vegas’ series opener against the Tacoma Rainiers.

“I wouldn’t come to the game unless it was 105-plus degrees,” Dewey Warner half-jokingly said.

Some of the players might have another opinion. Temperatures reached as high as 110-degrees in the 51s’ 5-4 victory.

The club’s popular Dollar Beer Night promotion brought 4,924 to the ballpark. If the 100-plus degree temperatures were too much for your liking, here’s a look back at the night and how everyone battled the heat. Temperatures were taken by the Sun using a digital thermometer.

3:57 p.m. and 111 degrees on the field

The 51s race out of the home dugout for batting practice sporting shorts and shirts — most teams wear game pants, however the blistering afternoon heat makes that impossible. A typical pre-game routine lasts up to an hour, but manager Mike Basso limits tonight’s training to 38 minutes.

The players have a game to play in three hours and it’s pointless to waste energy.

“It’s quality versus quantity on days like this,” said Basso, sweat dripping down his face from throwing batting practice. “We got more accomplished today by doing less.”

Las Vegas outfielder Aaron Mathews spent last year in Double-A New Hampshire — temperatures might have cleared 90 degrees once last year, he said — and calls tonight’s weather the hottest he’s ever played in. He remembers in early April when the 51s were snowed out at Colorado Springs, Colo., and chuckles at the difference in climate.

Still, a day playing baseball isn’t a bad way to make a living.

“You could be doing a lot more less desirable things outside than this job,” said Matthews, who hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning.

4:35 p.m. and 92 degrees in the dugout

A misting system hanging in the dugout gives the players a reprieve from the heat between innings. Toward the end of batting practice, a few players gather to cool off before heading into the clubhouse.

“The setup they have with the misters in the dugouts helps a ton,” said Jon Woodworth, the 51s athletic trainer. “It’s a lot cooler and more comfortable because of them.”

It’s still hot and the players are noticeably tired. But the misters help reduce heat-related illness, Woodworth said.

So far this season, he reports, no players have had any problems because of the heat. It’s a trend he hopes continues.

5:05 p.m. and 78 degrees in the 51s clubhouse

Most of the on-field workouts are done as Tacoma takes the field for its preparation and the 51s retreat to their clubhouse. They are greeted by Woodworth, whose main priority is pushing fluids.

“For the most part, everyone is aware that this is the desert and you have to be careful,” Woodworth said. “You have to be really, really good at replacing fluids.”

Woodworth is in his 16th season of triple-A baseball with the Blue Jays organization, the 51s’ parent club. The previous 15 years were in Syracuse, N.Y., before the affiliate moved to Las Vegas. Temperatures rarely cleared 90 degrees in Syracuse, he said.

The coolest it got Thursday was 98 degrees at the end of the game.

6:01 p.m. and 95 degrees in the shaded beer garden

Leslie Brock and Kymberlie Hurd sell 1,400 beers on average each dollar-beer promotion night. The girls are minutes away from being swarmed with customers and relax by eating frozen M & M candies.

“At least we will be able to sweat off five pounds tonight,” Hurd said. “That’s why we are eating the M & Ms.”

7:05 p.m. and 108 degrees for the first pitch

The top of the first inning lasts just four minutes, with the 51s retiring the Rainiers in order. They head back to the dugout, where Woodworth will be waiting to check on the pitcher and catcher — two players who are involved in every play and more prone to heat-related problems.

If needed, he will place ammonia water towels on players’ face to assist in the cooling process.

While the players obviously notice the heat, they don’t complain. The heat is another part of the game, another obstacle to reaching the big leagues.

“You definitely feel the heat,” Las Vegas third baseman Kevin Howard said. “But once the game starts, you don’t think about it.”

7:18 p.m. and 111 degrees in the general admission bleachers

Not even a dollar beer could lure fans to these seats with the sun shining directly down.

The metal general admission bleachers down the right field line are too hot this time of the night. Only a handful of fans are brave enough to take a seat. The bleachers, especially on the left field side of the stadium, will soon see action.

8 p.m. and 104 degrees eight rows from the field

The Warners were right. The heat gets reasonable as the sun starts to set. “We love it out here,” Dewey Warner said. “It’s not that hot.”

9 p.m. and 100 degrees eight rows from the field

The 51s rallied with two runs in the fifth on Mathews’ home run and scored three more times in the sixth for a 5-2 advantage.

More importantly for the fans, some two hours after the game has started, the heat is becoming bearable.

The 108-degree starting temperature is probably as hot as it will get this summer. The club moved all of its 12:05 p.m. starts on Sunday afternoons to 7:05 p.m.

9:52 p.m. and 98 degrees on the field when the 51s record the final out

Tacoma puts two runners on base with one out, but the 51s hang out for the victory. More importantly, everyone survived the heat.

Sure, it was uncomfortable at times, but that didn’t stop the players from playing or the fans from cheering.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].

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