Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fish caught in snow-bind

Club needs better conditions to stage training camp on home field

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Can't blame any Winnipegger who's feeling morose about the latest dump of snow, but Don Ferguson has more reason than most.

He has to worry about an entire baseball field that just got buried -- and with the Winnipeg Goldeyes training camp slated to open on May 4, Shaw Park is running out of time for the white stuff to go.

 

"I just can't believe it anymore," said Ferguson, the Goldeyes head groundskeeper. "I give up. We take one step ahead and three back, that's how this season has been going."

With only a few weeks left until the boys of summer are set to come and play, Shaw Park is still covered by several feet of sticky snow. Ferguson, who has been with the Goldeyes since their inception, said they've never seen snow cover this late in the off-season. It's always gone by now -- other than the occasional late April or May snowstorm that melts quickly.

Last weekend, Ferguson and his team had finished cleaning up the snow with a Bobcat, and were pleased to see grass. Now the fresh dump is pushing their preparations back. It's not just that the snow needs to be gone, but also that the field needs time to dry after it melts. The 28 drains around the park's perimeter will help, but wind and sun do the lion's share of the work.

"Right now, Mother Nature's not co-operating with us very well at all," Ferguson said. "I can't look at the forecast anymore, it doesn't help me much... it's a very depressing year. I don't know how we're going to make it work."

That's the question Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier is wrestling with now, as he prepares contingency plans if the cold snap keeps up. The field needs about 10 days to dry completely before it's ready for play. So if the process hasn't begun within the next 10 days, the team will likely have to stay off the field at training camp.

"There's a lot of melting that needs to be done," Collier said. "Right now it's just saturated."

Either way, of course, the game will go on. If Shaw Park still isn't ready by the time the Fish are set to host Fargo for a pair of May 6 and 7 exhibition games, the team will likely schlep down to face the Redhawks at their home instead. The field in Fargo has been cleared for the university team and they expect to be good to go for American Association season.

After that, the Goldeyes head south to start their season on the road against Kansas; they won't come home until May 27, by which time the field should almost certainly be dry... err, knock on wood.

The AA set that schedule on purpose, Collier noted, to give Winnipeg a chance to warm up -- the first year the Goldeyes played in the AA, their first home games were played at a nippy zero degrees.

Either way, the late spring may prove a shock for many of the 24 players currently under contract for this season -- many from warmer parts of the United States. Collier has warned players driving up for training camp that they may have to take detours due to spring flooding. He's kept a little more mum on the water that's still frozen and sitting on their field.

"I don't want to scare them off," he said, laughed. "We've had situations before where they've come up and it snowed during camp, but this is something brand new."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 D6

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