published Friday, July 29th, 2011

Heat bakes NSA event

Heritage Generals coach Steve Chattin gets relief from the heat in front of a water mist fan set up to ease the heat near the lower fields at The Summit Softball Complex Thursday afternoon.
Heritage Generals coach Steve Chattin gets relief from the heat in front of a water mist fan set up to ease the heat near the lower fields at The Summit Softball Complex Thursday afternoon.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Since the National Softball Association's A Division Eastern World Series began play at three local ballparks Tuesday, perhaps the only things that have risen faster than the heat index every day have been the sales of fresh-squeezed lemonade and flavored shaved ice.

"[That's] the only way to beat the heat," said manager Howard Hale, whose Funtime Foods company is selling concessions this week at The Summit of Softball complex.

The National Weather Service projected Thursday's high to be near 97 degrees with heat index values in triple digits. The predicted south wind of 5 mph didn't seem to help much.

The only rain that's affected anything tournament-related this week was the pop-up thunderstorm at Monday's opening ceremonies at Camp Jordan that slightly cut short featured speaker Jessica Mendoza's talk and lessened the number of entrants in the skills contest. Lack of rain has been good for the schedule-makers, but not for cooling things in the afternoons.

The Chattanooga Parks & Recreation Department has placed four mist fans at Warner Park and five at The Summit this week. Two sit side-by-side in front of the concession stand serving fields 1-4 at The Summit.

"Every time I've passed those things, there's a crowd standing out in front of them," Hale said Thursday afternoon.

David Harrison coaches the 16-under Hurricanes Fastpitch Black, a team based in Portage, Mich. He said temperatures during summers there are normally in the mid-80s, although he said he spoke over the phone with someone recently who said it was raining and temperatures were in the 70s.

"We played last week in Chicago and they had heat advisories out there, but it wasn't nearly as bad," Harrison said after his team played a game scheduled at 3 p.m. "It's draining on them. We know the Southern teams are a little more prepared for it, that's for sure."

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, coach Vern Tatum's 18-under Tampa Mustangs were about to play their seventh game of the tournament, and his pitching staff already had four complete games. He said his team is used to playing three or four games per day in similar temperatures but with far more humidity.

Tatum pointed out that many of his players are wearing longsleeve compression heatwear designed to be worn in extreme warm temperatures. One is Amber Hay, who shares the Mustangs pitching load with Alexa Lopez and Victoria Groves.

Hay has grown accustomed to playing in hot weather. But she considers temperatures in the 60s cold.

"I don't like pitching in cold weather," Hay said. "Your fingers get numb. At least in hot weather you just have to deal with sweaty hands."

The Parks Department has eight full-time employees at Warner Park and seven at The Summit, along with five summer-help workers at each place. Most days this week they'll all work shifts from roughly 6:30 a.m. until midnight.

Both facilities also have three other city employees who help after their regular eight-hour shifts elsewhere. Four others at each place are driving passenger shuttles.

"We've got to make sure our employees are staying hydrated and taking breaks when necessary," supervisor of athletic facilities Ted Broyles said. "My guys have the hardest job. They're dragging the fields, lining off fields, keeping paper picked up. Everybody expects the fields to look great. I don't think they get enough credit."

Fans can find shade or they bring their own to most games, and players and base coaches have a shaded dugout to sit in every other half inning. Tim Gillenwaters, who worked behind the plate at an 18-under game at The Summit scheduled at 4:45, said there's not much shade for umpires to stand in between innings until it gets later in the day.

Then again, pity for him this week might be hard to come by, considering his job at home in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

"I'm a roofer," Gillenwaters said. "This ain't hot."

about Kelley Smiddie...

Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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