Play Ball!

            All outdoor activities are influenced by weather, of course, but baseball is taking the lead in trying to deal with the elements.  The Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies are leading this new search of weather attention.

            The Rockies (playing at Coors Field) play ball at nearly a mile above sea level (around 5,000 feet).  The air density at that altitude is some 15% lower than at sea level, which causes less friction and drag on the ball.  As a result, hits can sail farther, and pitchers have a harder time throwing balls with enough spin to produce good curves.  As a matter of fact, there have been more runs scored at Coors Field than any other park since it opened in 1995.

            Operating on the assumption that added moisture will make it easier to throw and harder to hit, the Rockies this season are storing baseballs in a temperature-controlled environment to keep balls moist.  The temperature in the chamber they are using is set at 90 degrees, with a humidity of 40%…about the same as warehouses that store official Major League baseballs.  What the Rockies management say they are trying to do is essentially keeping the baseballs as they were when they were officially manufactured and delivered to Coors Field.

            During the first 35 games of the season at Coors Field, total runs scored per game were down an average of four, and homeruns were down by 1.5.

            Physicists seem to disagree that the moist ball storage theory is behind the reduced runs production, however.  They argue that the weight difference imposed by the moisture would be nearly immeasurable, and doubt that it would have a measurable effect on how far the ball would travel.

            In Philadelphia, the new baseball stadium being built is being constructed in such a way as to maximize wind patterns in the area.  Studies were commissioned to precisely determine the daily average wind fields around the area where the stadium is being built.

Using this data, architects are utilizing their design, math, and computer skills to integrate the stadium into the environment.

            Whatever the outcomes, we’re definitely in the first inning, and in the end, it may be impossible to determine precisely whether the changes have no impact, a minor impact, or more significant impact.  In fact, to really get technical, you would also have to measure the ballplayers’ physical adjustments to the configurations of the stadiums and equipment being used to get a more accurate verdict.  In fact, as I think about it some more, you would also need to measure the “mind over matter” and placebo implications.

            Batter up…and put away that calculator before you come to the plate!