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Get Your Tickets — Multiple Leagues Good for Midwestern Fans

What is a baseball fan to do with tickets being sold for only 20 to 30 percent of the seats in most Major League stadiums for the start of the 2021 season?  If you are patient, these ticket percentages are almost certain to rise as the pandemic recedes during the late spring and summer.  For those not wanting to wait until the heat of summer, you might look for tickets at a minor league or independent league baseball venue! 

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Let me Count the Ways

Such baseball opportunities are plentiful in the Midwest because of the presence of two levels of minor leagues and four independent leagues.   The Midwest region has teams from

  • High A Central (former Midwest League)
  • Triple A East (previous International League)
  • Frontier League (Eastern and southern Midwest)
  • American Association (Chicagoland and points west)
  • Northwoods League (Upper Midwest) and
  • Prospect League (along and east of the Mississippi River).

Adding up the teams residing in these various leagues and levels, the state with the most options is Illinois with 14 teams, followed by Wisconsin with 11.  Count bordering cities such as Fargo and Omaha and you find seven teams at hand for Minnesotans, and five teams available to both Iowa and Indiana.  Though most AA teams are found in the South and along the east Coast, there are AA teams on the fringes of the Midwest in southwest Missouri (Springfield) and eastern Ohio (Akron).

Midwest League Elevated

Better players will be playing in many locations as the former Midwest League has been elevated to a High-A league.  There will be a lot of players whose climb up the talent ladder takes them to the towns where they played in Low-A within the past year or two!

It was taken as bad news when the Midwest League (now High-A Central) shrank from 16 to 12 teams, but the four teams left on the outside (Clinton, IA,  Burlington, IA, Kane County, IL and Bowling Green, KY) are still alive and playing in 2021.  Bowling Green was shifted to the East division (formerly South-Atlantic League) of High-A baseball.  The two Iowa teams found spots in the now 16-team Prospect League and Kane County moves to the northern division of the American Association replacing the new top Twins affiliate St. Paul SaintsYes, the Prospect League and AAPB play shorter 60-game and 100-game seasons respectively, but their mid and late May starting dates are not much later than the revised starting dates of the High-A season that is delayed until the first week of May.

Closer to Home

One goal of the reorganization was to better align minor league teams geographically with their MLB parent teams.  How did the plan work out in this regard?  The Beloit, WI Snappers moved from affiliation with the Houston Astros to pair up with Kansas City.  Two of the teams left out of the reconfigured High A league were affiliated with NL West teams whose new teams are in the High-A West (in Oregon and Washington).  Those MLB teams also did well.

The ongoing trend toward new and renovated ballparks will continue.  Many of the ballparks even for lower minor league and independent teams are quite new with great amenities.  2020 renovation projects were more easily completed ahead of schedule when stadiums were emptied by COVID.  Teams (and their cities) that kept minor league affiliations will have deadlines to meet certain standards for stadium facilities in order to maintain those relationships with MLB teams.  A lot of these improvements are player-oriented, but fans will benefit as well. 

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Guide for 2021 Baseball Fans

Better Weather as Spring Unfolds  

May is typically quite a bit more pleasant than April over the northern parts of the US.  In recent years, this difference has been made more dramatic by a tendency for chillier than normal April weather and near to warmer than normal May weather.   This is one reason that there could be a great benefit from the fact that all of the minor league seasons have been moved back a month for 2021, starting five weeks after MLB with the minor league regular seasons extending through the first half of September. 

Some time ago, I looked at the cold weather that can plague the month of April from Ohio into New England.  Now let’s look at the spring weather for the west end of AAA East.  This area, too, has had a recent tendency for very chilly April weather (see chart below) and 2020 was no exception.  In the Twin Cities, seven days of that month had highs in the 40s, and three other days didn’t even surpass the 30s!  April 2020 was drier than normal in this region, but many recent Aprils have been wetter (and/or whiter) than normal. 

Four of the past seven Aprils have been significantly colder than the already-cool average of 43.2 degrees for the region that includes Minnesota and Iowa. (Source = https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/regional/ from NOAA/NCEI)

The month of May not only averages 12 degrees warmer than April in the Upper Midwest region but recent months of May have tended NOT to be chilly. In fact, many have been warmer than normal in Minnesota and Iowa.  In 2018, as an extreme case May averaged 27 degrees warmer regionwide than April which had record cold and a fair amount of snow.

Single Time Zone but Varying Weather for American Association Teams

The 12-team American Association of Professional Baseball (AAPB) on-field talent consists of former major league and former minor league players and undrafted college players.  As the map below shows, the six Northern Division teams include three in the Chicagoland metroplex, Milwaukee, Fargo, and Winnipeg.  The Southern division teams include four members along the I-29 corridor between Sioux Falls and Kansas City and two others from Texas.  The Saint Paul Saints (former league member) moved on to become the AAA team for the nearby Twins, so the American Association is now without a team along the Mississippi River. 

Locations of American Association teams for 2021. Their 100-game regular season is scheduled to run from mid-May until Labor Day weekend. The Northern Division consists of teams at the locations represented by the red dots, while Southern Division teams are represented by blue dots. Map source = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Association_of_Professional_Baseball#Current_teams

Though the teams lie far apart geographically, the AAPB has the advantage of all teams being within the Central Time Zone.   My recent article about Northwoods League weather applies well to the northern division of the AAPB as it overlaps the geography of the Northwoods League.  Lengthy daylight hours are notable, as by late June Winnipeg has nearly 16 and a half hours of daylight (still twilight at 10PM) while the Railroaders team in Cleburne near Dallas-Fort Worth enjoys an hour less daylight in both the morning and evening.

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The southernmost locations of the league have a much warmer spring climate profile with an earlier severe weather season.  The map here shows that average May temperatures (at the start of the season) are some twenty degrees warmer for the Cleburne team in Texas as compared to the Fargo RedHawks home along the Minnesota – North Dakota border.  Severe weather tends to peak by the end of May for southern locations (Kansas City southward) and from late May into June from Omaha to Chicago.  The northern locations (Fargo and Winnipeg) sometimes see more of a mid-summer (July) peak in severe weather and thunderstorms.

May average high temperatures show a greater contrast from north to south than what we see in the summer months. This contrast can drive a fairly active severe weather pattern.(Map provided by The Weather Channel)

As summer progresses, the long days up north allow the temperatures to catch up with those in the southern states.  There remains a significant contrast in humidity levels as measured by the dewpoint between the northern and southern locations.  The chart below compares the monthly average dewpoint for Winnipeg, Sioux Falls, and Kansas City.

Humidity levels reach their peak in July and August and can often reach the oppressive category farther south while usually remaining comfortable at Winnipeg. (Data for this chart from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/usa)

Many fail to realize that rainfall events on average become much less frequent and heavy going from late spring to the end of summer into early fall.   Average monthly rainfall at Sioux Falls is nearly 60% higher in May and June compared to the month of August.  At Winnipeg, late summer rainfall averages barely half of the May and early June amounts. For this reason the potential for rainouts is much lower during the second half of the season! 

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Three Helps to Savor the Long Days — Northwoods League Weather

Recently, I’ve been taking you on a tour of minor leagues that play in the northern parts of the Nation, with an eye on the types of weather seen in April and May.  I have demonstrated that AAA teams in the Northeast may well benefit from a delayed start to the baseball season  while Pacific Northwest weather patterns tend to be more favorable for six teams preparing for a longer season. These minor league teams are organized based on the MLB team that holds the rights to their professional players.  Other independent amateur leagues attract college players who desire further playing time at the completion of their spring seasons.  The collegiate summer league having the footprint that is farthest north, the 22-team Northwoods League, plays in towns across the Upper Midwest starting at the end of May.  The league is Wisconsin-focused with 10 teams based there and five teams playing in Minnesota. 

The Northwoods League was one of the earliest to release their 2021 schedule.  Because most of its teams were able to play a shortened schedule in 2020, operations have been less disrupted by the pandemic than affiliated ball.  All teams on the 2020 roster are back for this season and a new team for 2021, the St. Croix River Hounds, takes the field just across the Wisconsin border from Twin Cities Metro area.

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Longest Days Found Farther North

One unique aspect of Northwoods League play arises from the fact that summer days are LONGER the farther north one goes, and that difference is most dramatic during the weeks surrounding the summer solstice each June 21st.  By the third week of the regular season, the sunset time in some Northwoods League cities is after 9PM, meaning that many evening games will end before it’s fully dark outside.  At Bismarck, ND, home of the Larks, the latest June sunset time is 9:42PM!  While not great for postgame fireworks shows, the long days are friendly for those who have a bit of a drive home after the game.

Lake Breezes and Passing Storms

What weather conditions are we signing up for as fans of the Northwoods League in 2021?  The season overlays the warmest days of the summer, as it coincides with summer break for the college players who fill its rosters.  

One unique geographical feature is the nearness to the Great Lakes of nearly one-third of the teams.  This provides significant exposure to the potential for cooling onshore breezes during the late afternoons and evenings.  The lake breeze effect tends to be most substantial during the early part of summer when the cool lake temperatures still have the greatest contrast with the air temperature over the adjoining land.

Otherwise, the comfort level outdoors will vary based on cloud cover and humidity. There is the threat of thunderstorms throughout the season, though the most volatile weather is usually confined to the first half of the season.  Any storms tend to be more scattered and more slow-moving during late July and early August, and instances of severe weather become less numerous in most years after July 4th.  The tradeoff is that mid to late summer humidity tends to be much higher during July and early August – especially for the league’s southern outposts like Waterloo and Kokomo as maturing seasonal croplands maximize their water usage. 

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Spring Weather Tour – Northwest League

In an earlier article, I looked at the benefits of “missing out” on chilly April weather (and in turn enjoying games into mild September) in the northeast United States for a 2021 baseball season delayed by pandemic realities.  I gave weather details from last year when there was no spring baseball — using the April 2020 weather pattern.  With the long-awaited release of schedules, and all except MLB, AAA, and college teams delaying the start of their seasons into May, it’s time to resume my “tour” of the minor leagues.  This time we’ll go to the other coast where the newly- elevated teams of the High-A Northwest League are set to play the season with five teams based in Washington and Oregon, and a sixth team based across the border in Vancouver, BC. I should note that these teams were formerly part of a short-season league that did not start play until June. That means they customarily have missed out on the spring weather.

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April Weather Variations

Last spring showed that April weather in the Northeast US can be downright wintery, but the Pacific Northwest enjoys a more temperate spring climate.  First, the average April temperature in Washington State is a couple degrees warmer than that of New York State.  Layered on top of this natural advantage has been a string of mild Aprils.  It has been a full ten years (back to 2011 as shown on the chart below) in which Washington State had a month of April that was more than one degree colder than the long-term average.  Remember, New York has had three such cold Aprils just since 2015! 

Graph of Washington State April departure from normal temperatures since 1895.
Yes, April can be cold in the Pacific Northwest, but it has not been dramatically so since 2011. Eight of the past nine Aprils have averaged within one degree of the long-term normal (chart from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/statewide/time-series/).

The six teams of the Northwest League are in a very homogeneous geography compared to the 15 teams in the (former) International League.  April temperatures are seldom cold enough for snow at the lower elevations of the Pacific Northwest and April precipitation averages about 10% less in Washington State than in New York.

The Splendor of September

With games not starting until May, the 132-game class A season will stretch into at least the first half of September.  Similar to the differential seen in the Northeast US, September temperatures in Washington State average 12 degrees warmer than those of April.   By virtue of averaging a couple degrees cooler than New York in September, the Pacific Northwest would appear to retain a regional advantage at the back end of the season– less of a tendency for late-season heat waves compared to the Northeastern states.  This moderating influence was not fully realized in the past ten years.  In fact, during the past decade half the Septembers in Washington State were much warmer than normal.  The very warmest Septembers (for instance 2020) have brought highs of 95 to 100 in the first week of the month at places like Pasco, WA, home of the Tri-City Dust Devils.  It turns out that this may not have been too uncomfortable for evening baseball with the earlier sunsets of September.  Especially helpful is the low humidity of the region allowing most nights to cool into the 40s and 50s.  Early autumn weather is typically splendid in Washington and Oregon as normal rainfall in September is less than half of that seen in much of the Northeast US.  Shifting the baseball season back a month might be particularly appealing in this part of the country. 

Baseball Under Review – Where to Attend Games in 2021

In the pandemic season of 2020, it seemed that everything about the game was under review and subject to change – often on short notice.  To get safely through the 2020 season changes were made to the length of games (7-inning doubleheaders), the number and timing of off days, and game sites.

In 2021, we can be confident that many of us will be able to attend games in person for the first time since 2019!  But a lot has changed, and some “temporary” changes will be slow to unwind.  It may well require some creativity to return to baseball in 2021, so I encourage baseball fans who want to join in to think outside the box. 

Wondering what you’ll need for your 2021 baseball adventures? Get this free checklist

I appreciate the game so much that watching any game any time is enjoyable.  If your appreciation of the game is at a high level, then you need not be limited by the shortage of tickets when social distancing is in place during the 2021 season, even if – as I’m starting to hear is increasingly likely – the 2021 season is shorter than 162 games. 

Here’s a question as you contemplate getting back to baseball in 2021.  Will you drive farther to see a AAA game if tickets aren’t available to see your favorite MLB team?  Such devoted fans will be popular with teams hurting after a year of lost revenue and little chance of full stadiums in 2021.   If you could go anywhere to see AAA baseball in 2021, where might you find the best chance of success? 

As the starting point for considering the balance of supply and demand for tickets in spring of 2021, let’s look at AAA attendance from the most recently-played season.  Of the 27 AAA teams expected to maintain the same affiliation status as in 2019, five teams averaged less than 50% of capacity in 2019.  These were Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), and Buffalo, Syracuse, Norfolk, and Gwinnett of the International League (IL). Jacksonville, moving from AA to AAA for 2021, also averaged less than 50% of stadium capacity during the 2019 season. Part of the picture for the low percentages in Buffalo (with the 9th highest average attendance in AAA) and Salt Lake City (near the middle of the pack in AAA attendance) is that they have the largest stadiums in AAA.  If you’re near these cities, you might find it easier to get in to a socially-distanced game! 

On the opposite end, there were two teams in the PCL (Nashville and Las Vegas), and three teams of the IL (Charlotte, Columbus, and Lehigh Valley) which averaged more than 85% of capacity during the 2019 season. The new Twins AAA affiliate in Saint Paul drew remarkably well when operating as an independent league team, regularly selling out 7210-seat CHS Field.  Each of these teams have newer stadiums, (all opening since 2008), and four of the six had winning records.  It’s very possible these may be among the harder tickets to get in the restart of the minor leagues!  Where does your local team fit into this picture?  Below is the list of AAA affiliates and their average 2019 attendance compared to their listed stadium capacity.

Here is the ranking of AAA teams from lowest to highest percentage of average attendance capacity in 2019. I have not included Fresno and San Antonio (moving from AAA to other levels this season) and New Orleans (whose franchise moved to Wichita after 2019 and will now be at the AA level). 

  Another option for some fans would be to look at games in the lower levels of the minor leagues or even the independent leagues, many of which were able to play a shortened season in 2020.  These independent or non-affiliated leagues include the Northwoods League (which boasted the largest attendance of any US baseball league in 2020), the American Association, the Atlantic League, and the Pecos League.  Their schedules start later which combines with limited travel and player movement to give these leagues better opportunities to play full seasons in 2021.  The Appalachian League (southern mid-Atlantic region) is newly non-affiliated in 2021 and recently released a 54-game schedule (down from 68 games in previous seasons when it was a low-A league). 

Baseball Shortens Minor League Player Pipeline

The pace of change in baseball has not been slowed by the pandemic and a new whirlwind of activity is expected early this winter as realignment of Minor League Baseball is finalized between major league teams and partners.  Because of necessary steps taken to help the 2020 season progress as safely as possible, we saw the future of minor league affiliates for a few teams.  In 2020, avoiding travel was a major factor in the final setup.  The alternate training sites set up during 2020 were as close as possible to the major league home stadiums in order to reduce players’ risks of exposure to COVID.   

Anticipating that the minor leagues can play next spring, let’s look at the two ends of the travel spectrum based on the 2019 affiliations and expected 2021 arrangements.  The five teams most distant from their top farm clubs have been the Dodgers, Brewers, Marlins, and Nationals — all from the National League and each more than 1000 miles from their AAA teams — and the American League Twins, 788 miles from the AAA Red Wings in Rochester, NY.  These long distances, though posing a source of travel delay when a replacement player was needed, did not prevent success.  Four of these five teams were among the ten participating in the 2019 post-season!

On the other hand, four teams in each League were fewer than 95 miles from their AAA teams.  These were Seattle, Detroit, Toronto and Boston from the American League and San Francisco, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Philadelphia from the National League.   

Night view of baseball stadium
We hope after the challenges of 2020 that brighter days are ahead for baseball in 2021. (Photo credit unsplash.com)

Curiously, only one of these eight were playoff teams in 2019!  Recent news coming from the Astros and Twins shows that they will now join the ranks of teams whose AAA teams are within 30 miles of their major league stadiums.  The Astros Round Rock team was 150 miles from Houston and is being supplanted by Sugarland. 

Some fans will be shut out of the opportunity to attend MLB games with limits on attendance likely in 2021.  At the same time, realignment of the minor leagues may open opportunities for creative baseball fans taking road trips to see games in which the stars of tomorrow will be participating.  Not only will many Twins fans savor the presence of a AAA team in the same market as the parent club, there may be some fans in the southern end of Twins territory for whom a road trip to see Wichita (new AA affiliate) in action might be an easier ticket than that of the reduced capacity at Target field.  Wichita is closer than the Pensacola club (Twins’ AA team for past two years) which didn’t play any of its Southern League games farther north than Jackson, TN.

Players do travel when moving to new teams and from one level to another, but most of their travel involves going from city to city and series to series with one team.  Since 1997, the AAA Pacific Coast league footprint has sprawled across three time zones with teams in ten different states.  The PCL is likely to be broken up, with the western teams comprising a true “PCL” and a new AAA league being formed consisting of current PCL teams from the central time zone.  All of this will shorten travel and could allow more favorable scheduling.  There will be some interesting weather and climate angles to these scheduling changes and I’ll be writing more about these in the coming weeks after the final plans are released in early December.  For now, I see these advantages to the realignment:

  • Minor league players will be more likely to experience similar weather while staying in the same time zone.  This will help many organizations as they prioritize better balance and sufficient sleep for players. 
  • With the adjusted schedule in 2021, fewer players and teams will be subject to the type of early spring cold spells that have engulfed the Northeast in recent years.  See my previous article that dealt with this issue!  By the start of May, the temperature contrast between Florida and states like Ohio or New York is usually less stark.  The farther into spring we go, rain events that do occur tend to be shorter, making it easier to work in games around passing showers rather than the all-day downpours more common in April.

Weather Change Favors Baseball Seasons

In this article I look at details of the weather we missed in April 2020 in the more northerly minor league cities, and why a later start to the season promises better weather — assuming everyone can play in 2021.

The great experiment of the 2020 MLB season is complete.  Several changes made for last season were received favorably, and one reason for success was the meteorological advantage in the scheduling of the 60-game regular season.  By not playing the first 102 games of the 2020 schedule (as the season did not open until the end of July), baseball teams located in the eastern half of the United States missed some consistently chilly and rainy early spring weather.  This was true of the Central and Eastern divisions of the American and National Leagues, and would have affected many of the minor league teams whose seasons were entirely cancelled

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It’s a difficult time for minor league teams, with economic uncertainty following the loss of the 2020 season and confirmation that the start of the 2021 Minor League Baseball season will be delayed by at least a month.  I find it ironic that after shifting the Arizona Fall League Season earlier in 2019 — with the weather implications described in this article — moving the regular Minor League season to later dates could now cause the two to overlap.

Big League Chill for Minor League Cities

The AAA East (former International League,) the AA Northeast (former Eastern League,) and even the former Carolina League (whose teams have been placed in the new Low A and High A East leagues) lie in geographies for which the arrival of spring was slow and somewhat intermittent during 2020. Unlike MLB teams which may fortuitously escape spring chill with a series in an enclosed stadium or a well-timed West Coast road trip, the geographical homogeneity of the minor leagues presents a consistent problem when cold weather lingers into spring across the Northeast and Midwest. 

The Western division of the International League consisted of Indianapolis, Louisville, and two teams (Toledo and Columbus) in Ohio. Source = https://en.wikipedia.org/

Let’s look at some specifics from the spring of 2020 for some teams in the Midwest division of the new AAA East. In April of 2020, these cities all had measurable precipitation on between 10 and 15 days in the month.  Temperatures averaged between two and four degrees below normal. 

Though there were a handful of days with pleasant highs in the 70s at both Indianapolis and Columbus, another handful of days in each city only reached the 40s.  The remaining days in April reached the 50s and 60s. 

Looking at recent history, three of the past five years have had cooler than normal April weather for the eastern Midwest and Northeast, and only one of those five Aprils averaged drier than normal. 

Even more weather-challenged was the Northern division of the International League (now the Northeast Division of AAA East).  The three cities in New York each had between 7 and 10 April days with measurable snow among nearly twenty days with measurable precipitation of some type. 

The Northern division of the International League (which became the Northeast Division of AAA East) contains three teams in upstate New York, two in Pennsylvania, and the Rhode Island-based Pawtucket Red Sox.  Source = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_League/

The temperature was unpleasant also. It failed to climb out of the 30s on three days in Buffalo and on four days in Syracuse.  Another dozen or so days in April only reached the 40s.  It seems that the winter coat would have been the most comfortable baseball attire for this region on the majority of days in April, 2020!  The next chart shows how variable the April temperature pattern has been for the state of New York in recent years. 

Though an “early spring” happens from time to time, even the warmest Aprils have had average temperatures below 50 degrees.  It’s no wonder that inclement weather has not been unusual in the first weeks of the baseball season! (Source = https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/us Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series)

Early Fall Weather — Best of the Season

A late start to the minor league season would then cause the 140-game season to extend through the month of September.  That shift of the schedule should be great weatherwise for the northern teams.  The average September temperature for the state of New York is sixteen degrees warmer than the average temperature in April with only an 11% increase in average precipitation amounts compared to April!   The COVID pandemic ends up providing an opportunity to lop off the April part of the schedule, and its potential for really miserable weather, and in turn to “reattach” those games to the end of the season – in what can be the nicest weather month of the year. 

This chart shows that the average temperature for the state of New York is sixteen degrees warmer than the average temperature in April. Even more noteworthy is the trend toward consistently warmer than normal early fall weather

Here’s an interesting takeaway from this September chart: it has been more than twenty years since New York state had a September ending up more than one degree colder than the long-term average!  

2020 MLB Playoff Weather

October 23rd Update for World Series!

Chilly in Texas for #WorldSeries @RaysBaseball and @Dodgers, except for brief return of seasonable warmth for Sunday’s #Game5. Chances for rain next week do not favor #Baseballunderthestars at #GlobeLifeField if this Series goes beyond Sunday! 

October 19th update – Generally dry #WorldSeries weather for @RaysBaseball and @Dodgers, favorable for #GlobeLifeField roof to be open.   The exception could come on Friday.  A chance of rain should be gone by evening, but small potential for gusty winds behind a cold front similar to what happened during last Thursday’s #NLCS Game 4. 

Warm and humid for #Game1 and #Game2 then fluctuating temperatures for the weekend into next week.  If the Series goes six or seven games, there is potential for chilly outdoor temperatures.  #RaysDodgers

October 12th update — It looks even warmer than previous expectations for #Astros and #Rays #ALCS series.  Starting the week pleasantly warm then turning chilly and briefly windy for the #NLCS between #Braves and #Dodgers which may affect decisions on open vs. closed roof at Globe Life Stadium.

MLB baseball weather forecasts for mid-October.
Delightfully dry baseball weather prevails all week for the League Championship contests. It will feel more like summer than mid-autumn in San Diego, while a fall cold front will stir up winds by Thursday and add a chill to the air in Texas!

Oct. 10 – Nearly perfect weather is in store for the start of American League Championship Series and National League Championship Series with warm temperatures and near zero chance for rain. 

The roof was open last week at Globe Life Field for the Padres and #Dodgers series and several NLCS games may be played under the stars this week.

October 8th update: California heat returns next week for ALCS in San Diego. Astros will be there and Yankees / Rays still battling for the chance to join them!

MLB playoff baseball weather forecast
Near normal temperatures for Friday’s deciding game in San Diego, then heating up next week. Continued dry weather for ALCS starting Sunday!

Outdoor baseball continues with two American League Division Series in California. The unusually warm weather pattern finally loses its grip on the West Coast by mid-week. It does look like another dry week in southern CA as temperatures return to more normal October levels by Thursday.

As the charts below are showing, we’ll have a tale of two weather patterns for the seven first-round MLB playoff series being contested outdoors. The three California sites will experience unseasonable heat and smoky skies as September turns to October. Three Midwestern playoff sites will turn unseasonably chilly by mid-week while Atlanta enjoys pleasantly cool weather. Rain showers may pester Chicago and especially Cleveland Wednesday and Thursday, and gusty winds will exert an influence on fly balls, especially during the daytime.

Look for hot, dry and potentially smoky weather in Oakland this week while Minneapolis and Cleveland will turn unseasonably chilly. Occasional rain is likely to be a concern for the #Yankees at #Indians series.
NL Postseason Weather Outlook
Look for hot, dry and potentially smoky weather in Los Angeles and San Diego this week while Chicago and Atlanta will turn unseasonably chilly. Gusty winds and rain showers are likely to be a nuisance for the #Marlins at #Cubs series.

Arizona Fall League – Playing Games in Summer Yet Escaping the Desert Heat

A scheduling shift for Arizona Fall League (AFL) baseball has its teams playing games in summer yet creatively escaping the heat.   Cancelled for 2020, this league should return in 2021 with the second rendition of an earlier opening day originally introduced in 2019.  This change moved the season three weeks earlier, to start in mid-September and end with the championship game on the last Saturday of October.   The chart below depicts the temperature effect of trading mid-autumn days for three weeks near the fall equinox.  

High temperatures in Phoenix from the fall of 2019 show that the shift in the AFL calendar resulted in trading three weeks with highs in the 70s and 80s for three weeks of highs in the 90s – and a couple days above 100. 

Having seen the extreme heat across the Desert Southwest at the start of September 2020, one might well be concerned about the potential weather impacts of an earlier AFL season.  What are dedicated fans getting themselves into?  Will I still want to travel to these games in 2021?  Though baseball is a sport not necessarily halted by the desert heat (note that a rookie-level Arizona Summer League has been playing in outdoor venues through the hottest part of the year since 1988) the AFL is kind to those of us from cooler climates, with the September portion of the schedule containing only night games.  In 2019, the early season September nights cooled to the upper 60s and lower 70s.  During October, some of the games start over the noon hour and others in the early evening, For those who don’t like the mid-day warmth, it can be as much as 15 degrees cooler by the middle innings of an evening game! 

Average temperatures are dropping very quickly during the season, cooling by about ten degrees every four weeks!  The average high in Phoenix drops below 100 during the third week of September, and crosses the 90 degree mark around October 12th, which was very close to the former starting date of the AFL.  By mid-November, average highs are in the mid to upper 70s.  

Monsoon season, featuring not only increased chances for afternoon thunderstorms, but also higher humidity, peaks during August, and retreats during September.  These fall months each average a half to two-thirds of an inch of rain, with measurable amounts falling on about four days in each month.  So, the area has dry weather most of the time.  Hurricanes from the Pacific Ocean occasionally move into the southwest US in much weakened but still moisture-laden form.  Several of Arizona’s most prolific rainmakers have occurred with former Pacific hurricanes, and the historical peak of these occurrences seems to have centered on the last week of September and first week of October.  There have been sixteen tropical systems to impact Arizona since 2000 (see the list here) but none have occurred later than the most recent system of this type on October 15, 2018 when the remnants of Hurricane Sergio passed through as a tropical depression.

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