Cook: Pirates survive to play in cold again

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CINCINNATI -- Among the many things former Pirates manager Jim Leyland said famously over the years was this gem after his Florida Marlins took batting practice in snow flurries at Cleveland's Jacobs Field during the 1997 World Series:

"It's pretty hard to think about playing baseball when you feel like you should be Christmas shopping."

So it was for the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds last night.

Their game wasn't so much about baseball. It was about survival.

From injury, sure.

But also from frostbite.

The Reds won, 6-1, handing the Pirates their first loss of the young season. But, all things considered, the Pirates felt pretty fortunate to escape otherwise unscathed. Center fielder Chris Duffy, after standing for long periods of time in the frigid cold while starter Paul Maholm struggled to find home plate, easily could have pulled a groin when he raced in to make a diving catch to rob Ken Griffey Jr. in the fifth inning. Shortstop Jack Wilson could have popped a hamstring when he charged a ground ball to throw out Ryan Freel in the fourth.

The Pirates might have lost, but they lived to play another game tonight.

Make that today.

In the fourth inning last night, Reds management took the almost unprecedented step of announcing it was switching the 7:10 p.m. game to 1:05 p.m. because -- there's no other way to say it -- it's supposed to be bloody cold again tonight.

And you probably thought Pitt did you wrong by switching one of its football games from day to night two weeks ahead of time to accommodate television.

The Reds said they made the unusual move out of consideration for their fans because the high today is supposed to be 36 degrees with a low of 20 tonight. But what about the fans with tickets who can't make it to a game this afternoon? Here's a better question, actually: Where was that consideration last night when the game-time temperature was 36 with 10 mph winds that made it feel like 24?

Do you know how cold that is for a baseball game?

Heck, it would be bad for a football game.

When the Steelers played the Bengals a block or two down the Ohio River on New Year's Eve, the temperature at kickoff was 54 degrees.

Just in case you wanted to know.

The point is this ballgame should never have been played.

Nor should the one today.

Of course, that's easy for me to say. It's a lot harder for Reds management to say it.

For one thing, the Pirates only come back once more for a four-game series May 25-28. Those games are in the middle of a 20-game, 20-day stretch for the Pirates and a 17-game, 17-day stretch for the Reds. It has to be against union rules to burden the players with a couple of extra doubleheaders. Everything is against union rules, right?

For another thing -- and let's cut to the chase now -- the Reds don't want to lose a gate. They have to pay tomorrow's starter Eric Milton -- maybe the worst pitcher in baseball -- more than $10 million this season, don't they?

That gate thing surely explains why the Cleveland Indians didn't postpone their game against the Seattle Mariners yesterday. Instead, they forced a sellout crowd at their home opener to sit through a 57-minute snow delay before the game and then three more snow delays totaling nearly two hours during the game before it finally was called in the fifth inning, one strike from being an official game.

How ridiculous is that?

How ridiculous is that the snowplow people spent more time on the field than the ballplayers?

Is that any way to treat the fans?

The inconvenience on the well-compensated players is trivial by comparison, although it's pretty understandable that they hate playing in those conditions.

"It's miserable," Wilson said.

"I'm afraid to go out," Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista said before the game.

"Seven years in pro ball and I can't remember a game that cold," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "You go in the dugout and get warm and then go back out and you're an ice cube again."

The Pirates could have had it much worse, of course. Indians catcher Victor Martinez pulled a quadriceps muscle running to first base yesterday.

Speaking of having it worse, how about those poor Indians fans? After sitting in the cold for a total of four hours, 36 minutes yesterday, watching a little baseball and a lot of snow, they get a day-night doubleheader today when the high in Cleveland is expected to be 33 degrees with more snow squalls.

Yeah, that's showing consideration for the fans.

Ron Cook can be reached at .


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