MPR's Paul Huttner talks Target Field climatology

Categories: Sports
targetfield-boyles.jpg
Photo by Jen Boyles
With each ballgame, we learn a little more about Target Field.  Yet even considering the small sample of games played to date (18) at the Twins' new home, I think if I had a buck for each time I've heard, "Damn, that ball died in the gap," I'd own a sizeable cache of those delicious Murray's Steak Sandwiches.  But it's true:  despite the diminutive degree of foul territory (only Wrigley Field sports less), in its early stages of existence Target Field appears very much a pitcher's park.

Entering Thursday's play, only five parks in baseball have yielded fewer HR's per game than has Target Field at 1.39.  According to Hit Tracker.com, just two balls measured at more than 420 "true distance" feet have left the park.  Also worthy of note, Park Factors at ESPN.com charts Target Field as one of the top-11 Pitchers Parks for runs, hits, and, again, home runs.

But will those numbers alter with the seasons?

To help us better understand the weather conditions and related structural positioning of Target Field, we're most fortunate to be joined by Mr. Paul Huttner, Chief Meteorologist for MPR and author of the "Updraft" weather blog.  

Aside from his weather expertise, Huttner is also an astute MLB follower, along with being a former youth coach.  Like myself: Huttner is of the belief that baseball success (or lack thereof) is most aptly, above all other factors, charted by the performance of on-field personnel.  But that doesn't preclude our guest from recognizing that myriad elements of climate do in fact alter the flight of a baseball.  

"The main things that affect a ball's flight are air temperature, humidity, and wind," Huttner explains.  "In the spring in Minnesota we tend to have higher air pressures and colder temperatures.  Temperature and air pressure are inversely proportional.  One goes up, the other goes down.  As the temperature falls in colder spring weather in Minnesota, the pressure is usually higher.  So, meteorologically speaking, air is denser at higher pressures.  That creates more friction on the ball in flight.  All other things being equal: if Justin Morneau hits one good with a home run swing, that ball will fly farther in warm, less dense air.

"Air pressure depends on elevation above sea level," he continues.  "The higher you are, the lower the air pressure -- that's a constant fact in the state of the air pressure.  Higher elevation means lower air density, so as a result baseballs will travel farther.  Colorado is the highest elevation park in Major League Baseball.  Arizona is second, Atlanta is third.  At

T. Field 4.jpg
Image courtesy of Populous
about 840 feet, Target Field is the fourth-highest elevation above sea level stadium in MLB.  There was a study done at Middlebury College in July of 2005 that suggests that for every 500 feet you go up above sea level, you add about 10 home runs at your stadium every three years.  So if you take that theory, Target Field would have about 3 to 4 more home runs every year than you would compared with the same stadium at sea level.

"But here's the thing about Minnesota: we tend to have higher air pressures -- especially in the spring and fall -- than these other stadiums might in other parts of the country.  Our weather systems here also affect that.  We get colder air and get higher pressures than in Phoenix or Atlanta, and even in some cases Colorado.  So that tends to counteract the higher elevation a little bit."



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