Midwest League: Cougars beat the heat with good hydration
By Mike Knapp For Sun-Times Media July 9, 2012 8:29PM
Cougars pitcher Aaron Brooks towels off in between innings as the temperatures soared well over 90 degrees Thursday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 11, 2012 6:24AM
It appears the dog days of the baseball season came a little early this year.
Last week’s heat wave made it brutal for anyone who works outside, and ballplayers are no exception. In a 10-day stretch between June 27 and July 6, the game-time temperature for the Kane County Cougars averaged 93 degrees, with Friday’s 99 marking the fifth straight day the game started with the mercury above 96.
At this level of baseball by the time the game starts the players are usually already several hours into their workday. While the coaching staff has tried to adjust by cutting the pregame preparations to pitchers getting in their daily work and hitters taking a few swings in the cage, how the players get ready takes on a new element that begins almost as soon as they get up in the morning.
It’s all about one word: hydration.
“You worry about guys not hydrating enough to stay on the field and stay healthy because hydration is a big factor,” said Cougars’ trainer Mark Keiser. “It’s a matter of me and (strength and conditioning coach) Dave Kathmann pumping them full of water as much as we can because good hydration leads to fewer injuries.
“When we know it’s going to be hot we tell them drinking water at the field isn’t enough, you have to drink water at night after you leave the field and when you are sitting at home you should be drinking water the whole time.”
Once the game starts, Keiser and Kathmann make sure they have water or Gatorade ready when the players come off the field each half inning, and monitor the players, especially the pitcher and catcher, for signs of any issues. By now, they also have figured out which players sweat more than others and might be more susceptible to dehydration.
Professional baseball is an intense game and the players can be extremely focused. Keiser said a player might be upset about a poor at-bat or making an error in the field and they might forget to get something to drink when they are in the dugout, so a friendly reminder might be in order. They also keep cold, wet towels mixed with ammonia spirits to help cool and refresh the players.
Many of the players come from warm-weather climates, but what they face in the Midwest League can be different.
“I’m from California, so we have this heat but not the humidity,” said pitcher Aaron Brooks, who threw seven innings and 97 pitches in beating Quad Cities Thursday. “It was a change and I was sweating a lot. You just try to stay cool and mentally strong. You want to save your energy and stay out of the sun.”
No doubt managing energy is important because for most of these players their high school or college seasons were usually over by now. But in their first season of pro baseball, they still have 50-plus games to go. Figuring how to get through this grind is part of their development, because while it might cool down it won’t totally go away.
“Right now, they just have to get through it,” said Cougars manager Buck Buchanan, who has been in pro ball since 1994. “Everyone has been dealing with it fine, you just have to be careful.”