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Fair-weather fans should get used to Aprils like this
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The Indians were the chic pick of many to win the rugged American League Central Division, and the Mariners, despite little outside support, harbored hopes of doing the same in the AL West.
Now, thanks to one crazy week of awful weather — or was it an awful week of crazy weather? — both teams have a tougher road ahead.
"On the one hand, it is what it is," said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro by phone. "The game is full of adversity, and the teams that are strongest and best handle the unexpected bumps — and everyone will encounter them at some point — will survive and play past September.
"On the other hand, this will have an adverse competitive impact on both teams at some point. And it possibly already has, with the inability to get in a rhythm."
The burning question now is whether this shivering mess, and others throughout baseball during a frigid, wet April, could have been prevented with more prudent scheduling.
Katy Feeney, baseball's senior vice president of scheduling and club relations, has heard the growing call to play only in warm-weather cities and covered stadiums in early April. She says it's not nearly that cut and dry. Or cut and wet.
"Unless we're not going to open the season until May, which I don't think is going to happen, April is a tough month," Feeney said. "The times we've tried a warm-weather schedule, the second and third weeks in April were the worst. We had rainouts and snowouts then.
"April is just a tough month. Something like this is unusual. Yes, you're going to have cold days in April, but it could be any of the weeks in April."
Michael Barrett, Cubs: The catcher stopped for dinner at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kenosha, Wis., while driving back to Chicago after a series in Milwaukee. Recognized by diners, Barrett picked up the check for everyone in the place.
Erick Aybar, Angels: Twice already this season, Angels games have ended with Aybar, representing the tying run as a pinch-runner, being thrown out at second base on steal attempts. In one, Howie Kendrick (4 for 4 in the game) was at the plate.
Ex-Mariner of the week
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Maybe Yankees fans won't be happy to see him exercise his out clause after all. A-Rod became the first Yankee to hit six homers in their first seven games.
Quote of the week
"It feels like I have a little person down there playing a little guitar on it." — Minnesota's Jeff Cirillo, describing the knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery Wednesday.
Feeney was referring to 1997, when baseball tried to respond to icy conditions the previous April by having all warm-weather and domed teams open at home. That worked fine, but eight games were postponed by weather on the second Saturday of the season.
Of course, you could have Midwestern and Eastern teams stay away from home even longer, but that risks having fans there lose the excitement of the season. Plus, the West Coast teams don't want to play so many home dates in April, traditionally a slow-drawing month because kids are still in school.
Mariners GM Bill Bavasi recognizes the incredible complexity of putting together a baseball schedule. That's 2,430 games, with each team supplying myriad requirements, and requests, for various dates.
"I don't think there's anything they haven't thought of," he said.
Feeney, after more than 25 years in the business, can vouch for that. Schedule-making has evolved greatly from Feeney's early days in the league, when a man named Harry Simmons would do the scheduling.
"It was pretty much him with a paper and pencil," she said.
Next came the husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson, who held the job for 24 years out of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. They introduced the computer into the process but still did much of it by hand.
Now the schedule is done entirely on computer by a company outside of Pittsburgh called the Sports Scheduling Group.
"You have to take the schedule as a whole, not a small piece of it," Feeney said. "Sometimes you hold your breath that it will work. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't.
"You could probably pick any segment of it and say, 'What the heck are you doing?' By logic of weather, you wouldn't schedule any games in Florida or the Eastern seaboard during hurricane season, which is June through September. You can't do that, of course.
"We have several two-team markets. If both are home when it's warm, or away when it's cold, it would create multiple conflicts later in the season.
"The schedule is not one team, or one piece. It's a 30-team, 26-week puzzle. They play almost every day, and you have to account for all the concerns — travel, the Basic Agreement, the national network, the local networks.
"It's a massive puzzle."
That said, the Mariners and Indians have some specific gripes that could have mitigated their situation.
Foremost, it seems foolhardy to have scheduled a visiting team at Jacobs Field so early in the season that was not returning to Cleveland for another series.
Bavasi would like to see teams stay within their own division early in the season, because that would provide more workable makeup possibilities.
As it is, the Mariners and Indians not only face the current issue of overcoming their rust, but they face further challenges later in the season when four makeup games must be squeezed into the schedule.
In a division like the AL Central, which features the last two AL champions, as well as the Minnesota Twins, who have won the division five of the last six years, the Indians don't have much margin for error. Neither, of course, do the Mariners after three straight last-place finishes in the AL West.
But Bavasi is trying to adapt the same philosophy as the manager of the Angels' Arizona Summer League team when Bavasi was GM in Anaheim.
"He would fine guys if they said anything about the heat," Bavasi recalled. "It's an obvious problem, so there's no sense dwelling on it."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company