Baseballs stored in humidor possibly lower run productionPosted: Wednesday May 08, 2002 7:33 PM
Updated: Wednesday May 08, 2002 9:10 PM
DENVER (AP) -- The Colorado Rockies are finally trying to help their pitchers keep home runs from flying out of Coors Field.
The new tactic: a soggy baseball.
In an effort to combat the thin air at hitter-friendly Coors Field, the Rockies have built a temperature-controlled environmental chamber to store baseballs.
The chamber, which works much like a cigar humidor, is designed to keep balls from drying out and shrinking in the low humidity of Denver. The idea is to make the balls easier to grip for pitchers and harder for batters to hit out of the ballpark.
"We all know that because of where we play, there are so many things that we can't control regardless of the environment," Rockies president Keli McGregor said. "This is something that we can control."
However, Michael Dubson, a senior instructor of physics at Colorado University, thinks the chamber's effects might be more mental than physical.
"I can't think of any reason why it would have much of an effect other than making the ball slightly lighter," Dubson said. "The difference in weight would be nearly immeasurable and I don't think it would have that much of an effect on how far the ball flies."
"To me, the biggest effect may be psychologically -- they believe it has an effect. I think it has more to do with their Mojo than their physics," Dubson said.
The chamber, which resembles the walk-in refrigerators found in restaurants, has a pullout handle that seals the room and insulated ducts on top to keep the air circulating. The room temperature is kept around 90 degrees to keep condensation from forming on the balls, and the humidity is set at 40 percent to mirror conditions at a Missouri warehouse where the baseballs are stored.
The chamber is designed to hold 500 dozen baseballs, which are dated and rotated so that the oldest balls are used first.
The Rockies have been using the chamber for about three weeks.
"Essentially, all we're trying to do is keep the baseballs in the condition in which they were originally manufactured and the condition that they arrive in here at Coors Field," said ballpark engineer Tony Cowell, who came up with the idea for the chamber. "It's designed to maintain the specifications of the baseball."
Major League Baseball approved the chamber as long as it doesn't change the specifications of the baseballs.
It's unclear if the chamber has had an effect -- the Rockies don't have balls from last year to compare size and texture -- but there has been a change at Coors Field so far this season.
In 72 April games at the ballpark before this season, 61 percent of the games had scores of 10 or more runs. This April, there were only two games -- 14 percent -- with 10 or more runs. The number of runs scored has also decreased, from 15.1 the first seven seasons to 9.8 last month, and home runs have dropped 1.42 per game from a year ago.
Perhaps most surprising is that the Rockies pitching staff has an ERA of 3.91 in 16 home games compared to 5.68 in 15 games on the road.
Still, Cowell isn't ready to declare the chamber a success.
"The jury's still out on it," he said. "We have to see what happens as we go through time, what happens when we get to the hotter months in the summer. But I guess preliminary results are encouraging."
Coors Field sits nearly a mile above sea level -- a purple row in the upper deck designates the mark -- where the air density is about 15 percent less than at sea level. The low air pressure results in less friction against the ball, meaning it travels further when hit and spins less when thrown by a pitcher.
With pitchers unable to get as much break on their pitches and batters hitting the ball longer distances, more runs have been scored at Coors Field than anywhere else in baseball.
Since the ballpark opened in 1995, there have been 1,809 home runs hit in 590 games, an average of 3.06 per game. Before the 2002 season, 95 percent of the games at Coors Field have included at least one home run and nine games have featured nine or more home runs.
"When there is less drag on the ball, it's going to go farther," Dubson said. "The low air pressure means there's less to slow it down."