Strong winds will still make baseballs carry farther. A hard infield will still lead to tricky hops on groundballs. For pitchers, Security Service Field remains a ways from paradise.
But the playing field has finally been leveled with the Sky Sox now utilizing a humidor, a climate-controlled chamber almost identical to the one the Rockies own at Coors Field in which balls are stored to prevent them from shrinking and becoming harder at altitude.
A long-awaited addition, the humidor is the first of its kind in the minors – the Rockies, who play at an elevation that’s roughly 1,000 feet lower, are the only major-league team with a humidor. As many as 3,600 balls (tracked by dates on the sides of their boxes) can fit in the silver chamber that’s next to the Sky Sox clubhouse, with the Sky Sox mirroring Rockies procedures by keeping the humidor set at 70 degrees and 60 percent humidity.
Only three keys exist for the humidor, and plans call for Sky Sox public relations director Mike Hobson to give the Rawlings balls to umpires before 72 home games, starting April 13 against Las Vegas. When the Sky Sox are on the road, like they are Thursday for the opener at Reno, the home team will furnish the balls. The difference in balls coming from the humidor should be noticeable, offering more grip for pitchers and less recoil off bats.
“Hopefully, it can help the guys out mentally and it can get them to be more aggressive in the strike zone,” Sky Sox manager Stu Cole said Tuesday during a luncheon at Security Service Field to introduce the initial 27 players for the club’s 25th anniversary season.
The humidor at Coors Field has been operational since 2002, and since then, the number of home runs has decreased, the occurrence of 1-0 games isn’t a complete stunner and the statistics of Rockies pitchers more closely resemble those of pitchers for sea-level teams. Last year, for instance, Clayton Mortensen struggled to a 2-8 record and a 9.42 ERA with the Sky Sox, and as a part-time starter with the Rockies, he dropped his ERA to 3.86.
“It’s supposed to help us out,” Sky Sox pitcher Christian Friedrich said, adding that “I’m sure they wouldn’t just be throwing money around unless it worked.” Nevertheless, Sky Sox pitcher Rob Scahill anticipates “a lot of those high-scoring games if you’re walking people and not executing your pitches. If you make a mistake, it’s going to get hit.”
Sky Sox infielder D.J. LeMahieu cracked, “You wish (the humidor) never got invented.” However, LeMahieu admitted, “It makes the game more fair.” Sky Sox infielder Tommy Field said the humidor “doesn’t affect me that much. As a hitter, you’re still facing great arms out there. … If you put a good swing on the ball, good things will happen.”
Pitchers throwing balls out of the humidor will benefit from more depth on breaking balls and sharper cuts on sinkers, Sky Sox pitching coach Bo McLaughlin said, with the end result possibly a rise in groundballs. He cautioned the humidor won’t produce easy outs. “It’s not going to stop the wind from blowing out,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve still got the elements.” Above all, McLaughlin warned his staff, “Bad pitches get hit a long way.”