Eric Stromgren / Forum Communications Co., Published April 12 2010
Outdoor ball at Target Field presents new challengesMINNEAPOLIS – Craig Edwards holds an unlikely seat of power from a windowless bunker behind the third base dugout at Target Field.
As the on-site meteorologist, the retired weatherman’s judgment on inclement skies above downtown Minneapolis could mean the difference between a rain delay and a postponement at a Minnesota Twins baseball game.
“I’m predicting it’s going to be an average summer with plenty of rain to go around and make it very interesting for outdoor baseball,” Edwards said with a smile, glancing from his computer radar screen to the game on television in the small room.
The move from the perfect indoor conditions at the Metrodome to the outdoors at Target Field created the job for Edwards, who is one of the many support staff workers around the game at the stadium.
When the skies turn gray and threaten rain – like the first Twins game at Target Field in last Friday’s exhibition against the St. Louis Cardinals – Edwards is called in to give his forecast to the head groundskeeper and umpires.
“I’m a diehard fan and it’s nice to be down here,” said Edwards, who worked for 15 years as the chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.
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“So the plan is for me to come down a few hours before the game starts and give them an overall briefing.”
That pregame weather briefing is crucial to team managers and starting pitchers. That briefing brings a choice never considered in games at the Metrodome.
If rain is expected, managers have the option of benching the starter or playing the odds of pitching through rain. A Major League Baseball game must reach five innings to count in the record books.
Should a pitcher warm up and pitch in a game that does not last five innings, the start is considered wasted as the pitcher must wait four to five days before his turn in the rotation comes again.
That sit-or-start choice is what makes Edwards’ advice so important come game day.
“A lot of weather is available on the Internet,” Edwards said before pointing to a rain area in southeastern Minnesota on his computer radar display. “But if you’re sitting here, and all of a sudden this (rain) shows up … so if you get up and walk away for a half hour … then you have an issue.”
Jon Yates is one of the workers on the Target Field grounds crew and, like Edwards, he was looking at the cloudy skies before the exhibition game.
“When it rains we’ve got to be ready to take out the tarp,” Yates said. “Today when we came here the tarp was already down and as soon as they said the radar looks good, we pulled it. We have to have somebody watching the radar all the time.”
The work of the grounds crew involves much more than preparing for rain and mowing the pristine Kentucky bluegrass at Target Field. The crew is responsible for setting up and taking down pregame batting practice equipment, raking the dirt infield twice per game and laying fresh white lines around the batter’s boxes before the first pitch.
Perfection is the standard for measuring the playing field in a Major League Baseball stadium, so Target Field maintenance is a meticulous labor of love for the nine-person crew headed by Larry DiVito.
“It’s great – I get to be here before the game, see the games and be ready to work hard,” said Mike Beebe, who worked on baseball fields in the Forest Lake school district for six years before landing his job with Target Field. “That tarp gets pretty heavy when it gets wet. It’s more of a challenge than I expected.”
Another major job at field level during game days is security to keep the players safe and curb reckless fan behavior.
Prior to last Friday’s game, fans were leaning over the dugout and front rows with memorabilia in hand, hoping to get lucky with a signature.
That is common pregame activity at a Twins game, but security worker Rico Lopez was keeping his eyes on the crowd from the edge of the infield between home plate and first base.
“It’s just my job to make sure that we don’t get any field jumpers here so everyone can enjoy the Twins playing back outside again,” Lopez said.
The security crew rotates positions throughout the ballpark and Lopez smiled when asked how he drew the field security assignment for the first Twins game at Target Field.
“I just got lucky, I guess,” he said before glancing up at the sky. “I worked at the dome for the last four years and it’s just beautiful to be out here and standing outside at a baseball game. I really love Twins baseball.”
Eric Stromgren is a reporter at The Pioneer in Bemidji, Minn., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.