You never know what the weather will bring when playing outdoors in Minnesota. You can track the forecast throughout the week, but it can all change by the time you wake up the next morning. With these weather changes, there are a variety of dangerous environmental concerns to be aware of when playing baseball and softball. We want to optimize every opportunity to squeeze in each game that we can without putting ourselves in harm’s way. This article will give you some guidelines and helpful tools to play safe this season.
In the early and late part of the season we have to consider that spring and fall in Minnesota can be quite chilly, therefore, playing outside presents challenges for athletes and coaches. The obvious place to start is wearing layers and staying warm when your team is up to bat. Extra layers such as long sleeves or leggings are recommended if the air temperature is below 45 o F. An extra pair of socks may also be helpful. Stocking hats, mittens, extra socks, and jackets may not be practical when playing the field but should be considered when your team is up to bat. Be sure to towel off any exposed skin if you have been sweating.
Coaches should consider field conditions for every game. When the weather is cold or wet the field may deteriorate more quickly than during warm or dry weather. It’s important to maintain energy with proper hydration even when you may not be as thirsty. Light healthy snacks are also helpful during practice and game play to maintain energy levels.
Although it is unlikely, coaches and players should be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a dangerous condition caused by the body’s internal temperature falling below 95o F. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include: dizziness, shivering, hunger, nausea, increased breathing rate, difficulty speaking, lack of coordination, fatigue, and increased heart rate. The athlete should be removed from the game field if there is a concern about possible hypothermia. If there is not an enclosed building with heat, you can utilize a personal car or team bus. Any wet clothes should be removed and replaced with dry clothes. The athlete should be given fluids and extra layers for warmth.
In the spring and summer months, Minnesota weather can be less predictable with thunderstorms quickly rolling through our region. Summer in Minnesota not only brings risks of thunderstorms but also severe heat and humidity. It’s important to be aware of league or tournament rules that pertain to weather conditions.
Lightning safety can be a controversial issue, especially when you are at a tournament or unfamiliar site. Coaches should communicate with tournament directors regarding lightning rules if there is a chance of inclement weather. In general, umpires are responsible for making the call to cancel a game early and clear the field if lightning is visible. Players and fans should remove themselves from the field and move towards a covered building such as a picnic shelter. Avoid being in areas of isolated trees or metal fencing found near fields and dugouts. Personal cars or team buses are the safest place if there is not an enclosed building near the field.
It is important to have a coach or parent be a designated weather watcher. This individual will be responsible for continually following the weather forecast. Smart phones now have given us access to numerous weather apps which may provide you with access to a lightning detector at little or no cost. Lightning detectors can be helpful as they notify the user of any lightning strikes within a pre-determined distance from the user. Lightning detectors can be a safer option than waiting until lightning is seen in the area. General recommendations for lightning safety include clearing all fields and spectator areas for thirty minutes following a lightning strike. If there are repeated lightning strikes the thirty minute timer will be reset after each lightning strike. Highly recommended weather apps with access to radar or lightning detectors include WeatherBug Spark, Weather Underground, and RainAware .
The risk associated with heat and humidity is another reason to be properly prepared during your baseball and softball seasons. Late season tournaments in Minnesota can be hot and muggy, but you can manage the hot weather and play safely if you’re prepared. Hydration is always important throughout your season. Drinking a combination of water and an electrolyte rich drink such as a sports drink is the preferred form of hydration during competition.
The National Weather Service has guidelines for activity level and participation when Heat Index rises. Heat Index is the combination of air temperature and humidity. This should be taken seriously and practices/games may need to be modified to accommodate for these conditions.
Cooling off in between innings can be helpful to keep athletes from overheating. Ice packs and cold towels can be important
tools to cool down athletes more quickly. A small towel in a bucket of ice water can be used to wipe down exposed skin to promote faster cooling.
Heat illness can be a concern when the heat index is above 94o F. if you reference the table above you will see that this depends on the air temperature and relative humidity. Signs of heat illness include: heavy sweating, weakness, a thread pulse, cold, pale, and clammy skin. If these signs are observed the athlete should be moved to a shaded or indoor area immediately. An air conditioned building or vehicle is preferable. Clothing should be loosened, and cool wet cloths should be applied on the neck, arm pits, and inner thigh. Give cold fluids as tolerated.
Heat stroke is a more serious condition that involves internal body temperature rising above 106o. An athlete experiencing heat stroke may lose consciousness. They will have warm, dry skin, and a strong, rapid pulse. If these symptoms are observed 911 should be called immediately. The athlete should be cooled as quickly as possible using a cold bath, or cold wet clothes on the skin. Do not give this athlete fluids. The main goal is to lower body temperature as fast as possible.
Other recommendations for playing in hot and humid weather can include wearing clothing with UPF over 30. UPF is a rating for clothing similar to the SPF rating of sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied every 1-2 hours and more frequently if excessively sweating. One consideration for sunglasses when playing baseball and softball is to have safety rated lenses which are more resistant to breakage or cracking.
Preparation and awareness are key pieces to playing safe in a variety of environmental conditions that we face in Minnesota. Putting these guidelines and tools into practice will help reduce the risk of these preventable injuries.