|World Series reaches new heights and players feel the difference|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 27 October 2007 09:13|
The air is thinner in the Mile High City, which means even humidified balls don't break as well as they do at sea level. Players get winded faster and face a host of complications such as chills, cramps, dehydration, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, lethargy and nosebleeds.
Welcome to the first World Series played at 5,280 feet.
``I get tired anyway,'' Boston catcher Jason Varitek said as he prepared for Game 3 between the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.
Baseballs get slicker and pitchers' hands get drier in the bone-dry air of Denver.
But if anyone expects the Rockies to benefit from David Ortiz being unable to chug around the bases, think again.
Fewer air molecules means less resistance to go with the lower oxygen levels at altitude, the reason sprinters go faster and marathoners run slower at higher elevations.
Baseball players aren't endurance athletes, ``so they can actually run faster at altitude,'' said Jack Daniels, head running coach at the Northern Arizona University's Center for High Altitude Training.
For short bursts, the human body doesn't actually need any oxygen at all. Athletes can burn anaerobic, or stored, energy, for short bursts without trouble.
``All-out speed is actually faster. Now, with bigger bodies, there's more resistance, but running fast isn't going to be a problem as long as it's 10-15 seconds,'' Daniels said. ``They'll make it from first to third in that time. That's something those sea level guys need to realize is they're not going to be slowed down running the bases.''
And Big Papi might actually gain a split second on his dash times.
But he'll sure feel it more.
``The main effect of altitude is there's not enough oxygen and it's harder to do anything at the same level than he would at sea level,'' said John Bohn, a physics professor at the University of Colorado.
Opponents sometimes lose a lot of water weight in the Mile High City, too.
``You're sweating and not realizing it because your clothes stay dry, whereas at sea level, that sweat doesn't evaporate because the air is so moist and so your clothes get wet,'' Daniels said.
``And staying warm can be a problem. It's just colder at altitude. Dry air feels colder because your sweat evaporates and that cools your body. It's like if you're wet and you point a fan at you, it's going to make you feel a lot colder.''
The Red Sox told their players to drink, drink, drink - water, that is. The message was everywhere.
``On the plane, all over the locker room, trainer's room: Just drink that water, stay hydrated,'' rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury said.
Players can lose a pound a day in Denver if they don't watch out, Daniels said.
``Two or three pounds isn't going to hurt performance, but it sure is going to make you thirsty,'' he said. ``Still, my guess in baseball there's more effect on the flight of the ball than there is on the human body.''
Even with the humidor keeping baseballs from drying out they're not going to break as much.
With fewer air molecules to spin through, pitches don't dip as drastically and batted balls get hit farther, which is why the fences are Coors Field are so deep. Also, balls hit down the lines often don't hook or curve out of play.
``It's not just that you add 30-40 feet to a well-hit ball, you move the fences back, the outfielders have to cover more ground,'' Bohn said. ``In a sea level park, a player slices the ball foul. A lot of those balls that would have sliced foul at sea level are going to bounce into the corners now.
``Everybody talks about how far you hit the ball at Coors Field. They pay less attention to the fact you might be hitting more balls into the corners.''
Especially because teams tend to bunch their outfielders to chase down hits in the big gaps.
``Pitchers for some reason still don't like pitching here,'' Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins said. ``We love hitting here. There's a lot of hits out there.''
Red Sox reliever Julian Tavarez pitched in Colorado in 2000, two years before the humidor's debut. He hated Coors Field then and he hates it now.
``It's still a hitter's park,'' he grumbled. ``Guys hit 40 home runs when they shouldn't.''
Visiting pitchers often tire out before reaching their pitch limit because they're putting so much extra effort into making their breaking balls break. Those pitchers sometimes say the baseballs are so slick they feel billiard balls.
``When they come in, they'll play catch down the left-field line and start spinning their cue balls and throwing their fastballs and it will not be the same as at sea level,'' Rockies reliever Matt Herges said. ``You hear about Coors Field and the nightmare it is to pitch here. It will affect you.''
The Rockies aren't immune to the effects of altitude; they've just grown accustomed to recognizing what it does to them and their game.
``When I came to town as a visitor I always had nosebleeds in my hotel room,'' Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. ``I've never had problems with it this year.''
Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui also recalled having trouble.
``I always got dizzy when the Mets came in here,'' Matsui said through a translator. He said he hasn't experienced any vertigo since his trade from New York last year.
The Rockies still feel some effects of the altitude whenever they return from a long trip.
``Your body is sore and you have to drink a lot of water when you get back to town,'' infielder Jamey Carroll said. ``The second day is usually when it gets you. You feel sluggish.''