Even the few lazy snowflakes drifting over the field couldn't ice the buzz at Shaw Park on Saturday, as the Winnipeg Goldeyes took to the field for the first time this year.
Through the day, fans roamed the concourse and hunkered in the seats, noshing free snacks as the Fish formally opened their 12-day training camp. The temperature hovered around 4 C. The players took the field in long sleeves, some wearing cherry-red tuques where ball caps would usually be. Welcome to Winnipeg, folks.
"Little cold right now," chuckled incoming pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth, though he's a Michigan guy and no stranger to chill.
For sidearm hurler Kyle Bellamy, one of the Fish's new Floridians, it was a little more surreal. "I've only seen it snow (during baseball) a couple of times, and in the month of May is pretty amazing for me," said Bellamy, the team's prospective new closer. "It's an adjustment, that's for sure. I'm used to playing in 90 F weather in February."
All that matters, though, is that the players stay healthy. Muscle strains are a risk in weather this chilly, but after almost three hours on the field, manager Rick Forney thought everyone came off all right. "I kind of warned them before we got up here, 'Bring your warm clothes and coat, because winter's not over yet,'" he said.
Of the 26 players on this 2014 training-camp roster, pitcher David Hatt is among the least likely to be freaked out by the bitter weather.
Hatt is a Canadian, one of two on this team, the other being bullpen hero Chris Kissock, the pride of Trail, B.C. The 23-year-old Hatt is also one of the team's two true rookies, fresh out of Delaware's Wilmington University. But he grew up in Freelton, Ont., a tiny town between Hamilton and Guelph, where baseball doesn't exactly reign supreme.
"Where I grew up, it was more of like, you either played hockey or that was pretty much it," Hatt said. "Hockey or nothing, really... but it was basically my mom; she kind of got me into (baseball). I just picked up a tennis ball when I was young and started throwing it."
Through his teen years, Hatt's arm carried him into the Premier Baseball League of Ontario, where he caught the eye of Wilmington scouts.
He was a spark plug for the NCAA Division II Wildcats, where his 1.93 career ERA holds the school record for lowest career figure. In his senior year, he hurled 91 innings, the most for a single season in in Wildcat history, and finished 7-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 16 starts. His name was splashed on year-end all-star rosters, and he was named the conference and East region pitcher of the year.
Those figures attracted some pro interest, and he almost got a job in the American Association last season. But the U.S. team didn't want to foot the bill for his visa, a problem that can hobble Canadian players. "I was never going to give up on it," Hatt said of the pro dream. "You just got to really work at it."
Last year, through his agent, Hatt secured a tryout with Forney. The Fish boss evidently liked what he saw and inked the young pitcher in November. "He's a young right-hander that has a little deception in his delivery," Forney said at the time. "He's not going to overpower anybody, but we'll see if he can make our team out of the bullpen."
Now, Hatt's job is to make that happen, though as history as shown, it's not easy for a first-time pro to crack the Goldeyes bullpen. "I just have to throw strikes, stay within myself and try not to do too much." Hatt said.
-- If the chill was getting into the Goldeyes' bones, the good news is they won't have to put up with it for much longer. The Fish play their first exhibition game today, a 1:30 p.m. tilt against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen, and host the Sioux Falls Canaries on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, they will leave on a two-week swing down to the sunny south, where they'll wrap up spring training and start their season on the road.