Early Season Chills

Portland, OR-- About an hour before the Beavers are set to play the Fresno Grizzlies in the second game of the season, I peer out into center field. Through a steady stream of rain I see the temperature on the electronic board: 46 degrees.

Frankly, I'm surprised it's that warm. Isn't baseball supposed to be played in warm weather under sunny skies? Aren't you supposed to take in a game wearing shorts and drinking a cold beer, instead of a parka and hot chocolate?

Out of the cold and into the nice warm clubhouse I talk to manager Randy Ready. Ready's new to Portland and when I ask him about dealing with inclement weather, he has an optimistic view.

"We got a great [field] surface with the new surface put down this winter and so far it looks like it's holding up. The scoreboard's going to dictate how we're going to play the game so I don't think the weather is really a factor."

Wondering how many rainouts it'll take before Ready becomes as irritated at the rain as most out-of-towners, I delve deeper into the clubhouse. I find relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst digging into a bowl of Raisin Bran. Hayhurst played for the Beavers last season but not until later in the year. How does he feel about playing in less than ideal weather?

"I love being here this part of the year," Hayhurst says, "it reminds me of the midwest - Ohio. Kent State, especially, is very overcast, it's cold. I can remember a lot of college games where we cleaned snow off the field before we played. That is fine by me, I like cold, I like dreary and I'm okay with that because that's what I grew up with. It kind of makes me feel closer to home."

So how does he kill time during rain delays?

"We sneak in [the clubhouse] and get hot chocolate and coffee and see what's going on on Cartoon Network, well, me Cartoon Network, other guys it's probably ESPN, but that's boring, I want to see Sponge Bob."

As a reliever, Hayhurst is used to a lot of downtime. He writes the Non-Prospect Diary for Baseball America (the true account of the minor leagues, he says) and always carries a notebook with him. Even in the bullpen you can catch him jotting things down when inspiration strikes.

Further into the clubhouse, several other players are listening to music, playing cards and there's even a heated game of Connect Four going on. Relief pitcher Paul Abraham and second baseman Matt Antonelli are lounging on a couch watching basketball on TV and I ask them what they do to pass the time during delays in the action.

"I tend to eat a lot of food during rain delays, that's how I kill the hours," says Abraham. "Eat food, listen to some music, pretty much what you're seeing now."

Perpetually smiling, Antonelli nods in agreement but adds "They [other players] like playing cards but I don't play a lot of cards."

"I just like hanging out with this guy right here," Abraham says, playfully grabbing Antonelli's head.

Forty minutes before the game is supposed to start the board in center says the temperature is down to 44. There's a cold breeze blowing, and I'm shivering in my thin sweatshirt. I decide to call my wife to see if she can bring me something warmer. With nothing better to do and the promise of a ballpark hotdog, she mercifully comes to my rescue.

Slowly the rain subsides and the game starts on time. With my third hot chocolate in hand and a much warmer coat on, I settle in to watch. Baseball is truly a great game, but in Portland in April, it's also a very chilly one.

The game:

Backed by a solid outing from veteran Shawn Estes, the Beavers made it two in a row to start the season against the Fresno Grizzlies. Estes allowed only four hits and a walk over six innings; it was his first win at the Triple-A level in ten years. Pitching coach Glen Abbott talked about the game Estes pitched.

"He did a nice job. I thought he got better as the game went on, he located his fastball, changed speeds, his curveball tightened up as the game went on. It was a very strong outing tonight, very strong six innings. He got better and better as spring training went on and he did that tonight too."

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