After getting approval from the stadium operations staff and the umpiring crew, the Brewers tried a new fix for the notoriously tough daytime shadows at Miller Park on Sunday by manipulating part of the ballpark’s fan-shaped retractable roof.
General manager Doug Melvin said it was manager Ken Macha’s idea. Usually, the roof panels stack on top of each other above each of the foul lines, two movable panels in left field and three in right, creating a line of sunlight and shadow that creeps across the infield early in afternoon games. The effect is particularly tough, hitters say, when the pitcher’s mound is bathed in sunlight and the batter’s box is in the shade.
On Sunday, two of the right-field panels were left hanging over right field instead of being tucked in their usually, full-open position. That meant both pitcher and hitter were in the shadows from the first pitch.
“This has to be an ongoing experiment,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said, “because the position of the sun is different at different times of the year.”
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are the two most prominent critics of the hitting conditions during the day at Miller Park. They have suggested simply closing the roof for day games, but that is not considered a good option, partly because Miller Park is heated, but not air-conditioned, and partly because part of the fan experience is enjoying the game on a beautiful, sunny day.
The Brewers were interested in a third-party opinion of the shadows issue so they contacted Mike Port, Major League Baseball’s vice president of umpiring. Port who surveyed the umps and found that they, too, have particular trouble seeing the baseball on sunny days in Milwaukee.
“This is a real issue,” Ash said.
The Brewers are moving two day games to the night in 2011, Ash said — one Saturday in April and another weekday during the summer. But they cannot — and do not wish to — completely eliminate daytime baseball, so club officials have tried taking other steps.
Last offseason, the Brewers removed ivy beyond the center field wall that created glare, and re-painted the hitting background with dark, glare-resistant paint.
One big problem remains, and the Brewers are not sure there is a fix for the large banks of windows above the grandstands that allow light in during the late afternoon and early evening. Players have suggested tinting the windows, but that would block the light necessary for grass to grow on the field. The Brewers have looked into a massive system of blinds, but it would require a seven-figure investment.
That’s cost-prohibitive, officials say, at least for now. So manipulating the roof to cover the early innings was the next best option.
Major League Baseball has rules governing the operation of retractable domes, but they mostly cover the timing of such moves and not the positioning of panels. When Ash was GM in Toronto, for example, the Blue Jays would manipulate a certain roof panel to provide shade for fans in the stands. But it didn’t affect the way sunlight hit the field, he said.
“You can’t, for example, open the roof while [the opponent] is hitting and then move it like this when we’re up,” Ash said. “Wherever you set it, it has to stay there.”
To make sure, the Brewers consulted with umpire Mike Reilly, the crew chief working the Brewers-Pirates series this weekend.
Neither team had trouble hitting in the first inning on Sunday. Pirates rookie Neil Walker connected against Brewers starter Dave Bush for a two-run home run in the top of the inning, and the Brewers scored three runs on three hits against Charlie Morton in the bottom half.
Braun finished 4-for-4 with his 19th home run, and reached safely all five times up. But he declined to talk to reporters after the Brewers’ 8-4 win.
What did Dave Bush and the rest of the Brewers’ pitchers think?
“I’m smart enough to know it’s not a pitching game any more,” Bush said. “It’s an offensive game between the ballparks and baseballs and everything else. Everything is geared toward hitters right now. In that regard, I’m not surprised.
“But it’s just part of the game, and when I’m out on the mound I’m worried about what I’m doing, the pitch I’m trying to throw. If we score eight every time with the roof half-closed, I’ll be all right with that.”
Macha deflected questions to the players, especially one about whether there are times a manager tries psychological ploys to draw out performance.
“Me? Psychological things? Those are all questions for them,” Macha said. “I come to the ballpark and my focus is there. I’m ready to go.”