If you asked Ron Burgundy, he may explain to you the name derives from the German word for gray, rainy days. Mr. Burgundy may not be 100 percent accurate, but judging by springs in this fair state, he may as well be.
Spring rains in Oregon are a constant that seem to become more prevalent each year, dampening the spirit as they wet the ground.
For traditional spring sports, this is a major concern.
In the fall, sports like football, soccer and cross country brave the rain. The playing surface turns muddy and teams adapt.
In the winter, sports are hidden under the canopies of gyms or swimming pools. They’re played indoors.
But in the spring, cancellations reign supreme.
Tennis matches are regularly rescheduled.
Prep track meets have even been cancelled and postponed this spring.
But the biggest concern comes with baseball and softball. Across Oregon this spring, high school baseball and softball teams have cancelled more games than they have played. Because the OSAA state championship dates are established far in advance, there is only a certain window during which games can be played. Teams must get in all – or as many as possible – of their games during this constantly-shrinking window.
When schools have three games regularly scheduled each week, makeups force them to play four, sometimes five games a week.
Most high school baseball teams are not blessed with six- or seven-man pitching rotations. To remain competitive, coaches are forced to rely on their better pitchers to throw more innings in a condensed amount of time.
This increased workload on pitching staffs heightens the risk of arm injury as teams are forced to use pitchers more frequently than they would otherwise.
Softball is different in that regard. Because softball pitchers pitch underhand in a more natural throwing motion, there is less strain on their arm. That allows a team to survive with two or three pitchers handling the workload in a week of five games in five days.
While players and coaches wish the rain would just stop, that doesn’t appear likely to happen.
So what’s the solution?
Many schools are turning to turf fields. This has returned good results thus far. The initial cost of a turf field is not cheap, but then maintenance costs are slimmed over the long haul. Instead of constantly mowing the field and purchasing chalk and drying agents, the cost instead goes to painting the lines every few years and doing repair work if any of the stitching is faulty.
Another way schools are able to offset this cost is by renting out the fields to other schools desperate to play a game. Wilsonville High School has done this, as have some schools in Hillsboro. Schools without turf get left in the cold and must figure out a way to play, so they travel to other schools to play home games on all-weather surfaces.
The reality, however, is that turf fields cost a lot of money. In today’s economic climate where school districts seem to be regularly choosing between school days or schoolteachers, getting funding for an artificial turf all-purpose field is pretty much out of the question.
A simpler solution is to just play.
If there’s a shower coming in, fight through it. As long as there aren’t puddles developing in the infield, you’ll be OK. The ball may get slippery, but it will slip out of one team’s hands just as much as it does out of the other.
Is baseball meant to be played in the rain? No. But we are in Oregon. The rain will continue.
The ultimate solution would be a few large, indoor facilities sprinkled around the state. These facilities would house a few fields in them. Then teams without turf on their home fields would be able to go to these facilities to play their games. Because they’re already inside, it wouldn’t matter what time of day the games are played – they’d all be under the lights.
To help cover the cost of running such an operation, admission and parking fees would need to be charged.
This hypothetical idea would be far more expensive than building several turf fields.
So until someone comes up with the money and the generosity to build three or four domes throughout the state to hold games in, or until the OSAA decides high school baseball and softball seasons will begin in late May and continue through July, the reality is teams need to start sticking it out through more of the wet weather.