By Mike Cranston
CHICAGO — Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse this weekend when he spilled hot water on his hand.
Painful, but at least he was finally warm.
“I’m on blood thinners to boot, so I’m always cold anyway,” Francona said before their game against the Chicago White Sox was rained out Sunday. “I use every layer I have and I still get cold.”
It was a brutal first week to play baseball in many locales. It was a franchise record-low 34 degrees for Cleveland’s home opener last week. They then played through snow showers Friday and 32-degree conditions Saturday in Chicago.
But that was a degree warmer than it was in Detroit on Saturday. It’s been in the upper 30s in New York and Pittsburgh. Snow flurries in some other parks, too.
“Pitching in cold weather is like getting punched in the face,” White Sox ace Chris Sale said. “You never really get used to it, you just handle it better. It’s never fun.”
For many players, the season’s first week is like being in the ring against Manny Pacquiao.
“There are some innings that are long and there’s nowhere for those guys to go,” Francona said. “I look at Jose Ramirez yesterday. This is a kid from the Dominican. He’s got a hood on, shaking.”
It’s also been a busy time for equipment managers. Extra cases are required to pack undergarments, hats, gloves, hand warmers, coats and jackets. Lockers in the White Sox clubhouse were filled with various undershirts and jackets over the weekend.
No relief for the White Sox, either. They play in Minnesota on Monday afternoon — it’s supposed to be 40 degrees for the first pitch at Target Field.
“You double-check to make sure you’ve got your cold stuff,” Indians reliever Joba Chamberlain said. “It’s a lot different when it’s snowing and it’s 30 degrees out. There’s a lot to do to stay warm.”
Players take different approaches. Boston designated hitter David Ortiz wore a hoodie under his jersey. Brett Lawrie of the White Sox huddles in front of the dugout heater before he goes to the on-deck circle. Others have donned ski masks. In some places, the bat rack is kept warm.
But does any of that matter as a hitter?
“We can dictate the pace and dictate everything else,” Chamberlain said. “Obviously, 30 degrees, guys don’t really want the ball in close to them.”
But White Sox catcher Alex Avila thinks pitchers may not have that big of advantage in frigid conditions.
“When it’s dry like this and extremely cold, you just have numbness in your fingers. You just lose feel,” Avila said. “And that’s dangerous at times, because as a pitcher you sometimes don’t know where it’s going.”
Sunday’s rainout amid another chilly, dreary day in Chicago was the fourth postponement in a week for Cleveland.
But there’s relief ahead. Next up, sunny Florida and a three-game, indoor series against Tampa Bay starting Tuesday.
“I’ll never complain when it’s hot, ever,” Francona said. “That’s baseball weather.”