Tuesday, October 21, 1997
Series goes from beach to brrrr

The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - This is the winter of our discontent, when the Fall Classic is played under a snow advisory.

Al Leiter, starting pitcher for the Marlins tonight, wears gloves while warming up during Monday's workout in Cleveland.
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But there you have it. The National Weather Service is forecasting flakes at Jacobs Field this week, and the reference is not to some left-handed relief pitcher. After two games in the tropics, the World Series resumes with Jack Frost nipping at the noses, ears and excellence of the Indians and Florida Marlins.

Baseball runs this risk each season, but it has become more pronounced with three rounds of playoffs and a competent team in Cleveland. Some year soon, adverse weather could cause the identity of Mr. October to be determined in November. Some day soon, the spitball case against Orel Hershiser could gain strong circumstantial evidence, should icicles form on his fastball.

Here, we exaggerate. But maybe not by much.

"I remember pitching many games in the snow," said Florida's Al Leiter, the New Jersey native who will start Game Three tonight. "The biggest problem with the cold is the slick feeling on the ball. The ball becomes like cue balls. It's a matter of getting a grip. Obviously, you're not sweating, so you can't get any moisture to get a good grip. And that's probably the only problem I foresee."

Pitchers are ingenious at generating moisture when it suits their purpose (which is almost all of the time), but their control is sometimes compromised in the cold. With the National Weather Service predicting temperatures dropping to the mid-30s tonight, it may take Eric Gregg's strike zone to keep these games under four hours.

The good news is that cold weather tends to prompt hitters to swing at the first pitch so that they might return to the relative warmth of the bench.

"Hitting a baseball in cold weather is not a lot of fun," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "If you don't hit it just right, it hurts. (But) It's amazing how warm you get when you get into a competitive situation. So I think probably the only ones that are going to be cold tomorrow night are us that are sitting back and watching."

It sounds good, but it also sounds suspicious. The tough guys will do their best to block out the conditions and concentrate on the task at hand, but most of those in uniform will be miserable.

"I've always been straightforward with my players," Marlins manager Jim Leyland said. "It's pretty hard to tell your players . . . that it wasn't cold. I mean, I didn't go out there with short sleeves myself.

"It's cold. So what? They know it's cold. I know it's cold. The other dugout knows it's cold . . . It's no big deal. That's part of the game this time of year."

Before the series games in Miami, the Marlins took batting practice in shorts. Tonight, instead of their knees, spectators should be able to see their breath.

"The Marlins don't like the cold," Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel joked. "The fish always go south in cold weather."

The popular theory is that the Indians could have an additional home-field advantage because they are accustomed to the conditions. Certainly this holds true for cold-climate football teams in January. But the fact is neither team has worried much about wind chill since the start of the season.

Florida shortstop Edgar Renteria, accustomed to the warm climate of Colombia, claims to love playing in the cold. So does Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell, from Milwaukee by way of Notre Dame.

"I can't wait to go out and play in it, to be honest with you," Counsell said Monday. "To me, growing up, this is always what the World Series was played in - in weather like this.

"It's the World Series. I don't care what the weather is going to be like, to be honest with you. It's not going to be a factor from my standpoint. It's going to be cold, and you've got to deal with it. If you let it affect you, you're crazy."

Jim Leyland's official position is that the weather is beyond his control, and unworthy of his attention. Managers are obliged to maintain a stiff upper lip even if it should freeze in that position.

"I'm more worried about the cold for my mom than I am the players," Leyland said. "But I'm not going to buy her a fur coat today, I can tell you that."