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The Climate Change World Series

John Tarleton Oct 27

Conservatives don’t like when political issues intrude into their sports spectacles — unless it involves ostentatious displays of veneration for the U.S. military — but climate change appears determined to make its presence felt by both players and fans during this year’s Fall Classic, or Late Summer Classic if you prefer, given that autumn doesn’t come around much anymore until November at the earliest.

According to mlb.com, Major League teams tend to hit for more power during hotter games. “Just 3.1 percent of at-bats ended in a home run at the coldest temperatures; 4.4 percent did at the warmest,” wrote MLB columnist Mike Petriello on Oct. 24, comparing games that took place across a range of temperatures.

What followed didn’t disappoint.

Temperatures at the beginning of Wednesday’s Game 1 in Los Angeles were 103 degrees. This occurred as the West Coast was blanketed by another heat wave and marked a record for a baseball playoff game. The Dodgers won a battle of home runs 3-1 with Justin Turner’s two-run shot in the sixth inning just barely floating over the left field wall to provide the winning margin.

Gametime temperatures for Thursday’s Game 2 dipped to a mere 93 degrees but the home run barrage escalated with a World Series record eight home runs soaring through the warm, still night air, as brush fires burned apocalyptically a half-mile away from Dodger Stadium. The key blast in the game came when the Astros’ Marwyn Gonzalez tied the game in the ninth inning with a lead-off homer that — like Turner’s blast the night before — barely slipped over the left field wall. Gonzalez’s blow came off the Dodgers super-closer Kenley Jansen who had blown only one save opportunity the entire season. The Astros went on to win in 11 innings. For the Dodgers, who had been 98-0 this year in games they led after eight innings, it was a stunning reversal of fortunes.

This year saw major league baseball hitters combine to set a one season home run record. Bigger, stronger players are swinging for the fences like never before, using advanced analytics to hone their launch angles. The Dodgers hit a franchise-record 221 home runs while the Astros finished second best in the American League behind the Yankees with 238 dingers. So it’s not a surprise to see balls flying out of the park in the World Series as well. But the impact of the hot weather was not lost on the players.

“When it’s that hot here, the ball does travel a lot better,” Turner said after his Game 1 heroics. “If it’s 10 degrees cooler, that’s probably a routine fly ball,”

“I think the heat affected the home runs,” Astros Game 2 starter Justin Verlander commented in a postgame news conference. “Dodger Stadium is famous for the ball not carrying at night. That didn’t seem to be the case tonight.”

The World Series moves to Houston for three games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It will be played in a climate-controlled environment beneath Minute Maid Park’s retractable roof. So global warming won’t have any impact on the games themselves. However, keep in mind the World Series is shifting from the scorching heat of Southern California to the Gulf Coast metropolis that became the poster child for a dystopian climate future two months ago when it was inundated with as much as 50 inches of rain by Hurricane Harvey.

Basic services have been restored and the Astros have vowed to bring home their first championship for their storm-battered fans. But amid the excitement the Astros have created, piles of storm debris are still waiting to be picked up in many Houston neighborhoods while many families struggle to rebuild the lives they had before the storm amid a faltering response from the federal government.

Category Four hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September. However, the storms didn’t dent enthusiasm for baseball on an island that has produced some of the game’s greatest stars, including the Astros’ all-star shortstop Carlos Correa and the Dodgers’ Kike Hernandez who hit three home runs in the final game of the National League Championship Series. However, finding a place to watch the World Series when three-fourths of the island still lacks power is a daunting challenge. Some fans traveled as much as five hours to be able to watch the Game 2 fireworks, the Miami Herald reports. One fan described it as “free therapy” while another acknowledged this might be the last time he gets to watch a baseball game alongside his father as he prepares to leave for the mainland and a better life that no longer seems possible in Puerto Rico.

Baseball is a welcome diversion from the larger troubles strickening our planet, but if we want to address climate change we’ll all need to step up to bat for earth — even if the Trump administration has refused to take the field.

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Chavez Ravine, Downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Sasha/Instagram.com/sanfrancisco.