The snow was still falling as Rob Zerjav called Midwest League President Dick Nussbaum on Sunday evening. With 2 feet of white stuff on the ground in Appleton, Wis., Zerjav knew no feet would be touching Fox Cities Stadium’s playing field anytime soon, so they needed to come up with a plan.
Zerjav, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers president, pitched moving their upcoming home series against the Kane County Cougars to Peoria, where the Timber Rattlers were already headed this weekend. The move would mean that the Timber Rattlers’ seven-game road trip would stretch to 13, and Peoria’s game day staff, which was coming off a cold and wet homestand of their own, would sacrifice their days off for the greater good. All parties agreed, and the Cougars and Timber Rattlers beat a path to Peoria, avoiding one of the worst winter storms in Wisconsin history. In April.
Winter is supposed to be over. The minor league season is already two weeks old, and while cold, wet and sometimes snowy conditions in April is nothing new for the Midwest League, blizzards like this have baseball veterans like Zerjav and Nussbaum shaking their heads.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Zerjav, a Green Bay native now in his 21st season with Timber Rattlers. “There is no blueprint for how to deal with this.”
Such has been the case in the Midwest League, whose highlights this spring are better suited for The Weather Channel than ESPN. The league has already lost 25 openings due to weather this season. The entire slate was wiped out on Saturday and only Peoria and Bowling Green managed to host games on Sunday.
“I’ve been in the game 26 years and I can’t remember so many postponements across the entire league,” Nussbaum said. “One year, we had games lost in Lansing right at the beginning of the year, but it was not nearly as bad in other parks. It’s been across the board this year.”
The Big Dig
Anyone who hates shoveling their driveway after a snowstorm should probably cross “working for a minor league team in the Midwest” off their list of possible careers. Clearing the stadium of snow is an all-inclusive job responsibility for full-time employees of teams like the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers — from A to Zerjav. That’s exactly what Timber Rattlers employees can look forward to upon returning to work this week. The next home game is Monday, and the ballpark needs to be ready.
“It’s a pain,” said Zerjav, who notes that they already shoveled 10 inches out of the stadium just after the start of the season. “I give everyone credit for doing it, now we have to do it again a week later, with twice as much snow. It’s not easy. But they know we’re all in this together. It’s the only way we’re going to play games.”
The dimensions of a baseball stadium are not conducive to clearing snow. Timber Rattlers staff will begin by shoveling snow from the club level down to the seating bowl. From there, they have to shovel it up the aisles to the concourse, where they can clear it out of the ballpark.
“Where do you put all of this now?” Zerjav said. “We have to clear paths. It’s not like at football stadiums. The Packers, for example, have a plan with ramps down the aisles and the snow goes down on the field and they haul it away. We can’t do that. We have dugouts in the way and backstop netting in the way.”
Zerjav gives credit to Peoria general manager Jason Mott for agreeing to host the three-game series between Wisconsin and Kane County this week. The extra dates are hardly a money-making endeavor for the Chiefs, particularly since the home team isn’t playing. In fact, Peoria is opening their gates for free and encouraging fans in attendance to donate to the United Way.
“I guess that’s why Jason Mott was our executive of the year [in 2017],” Nussbaum said.