In more ways than one, the heat will be on the Tri-City Dust Devils over the next three days.
After 17 games of the Northwest League season, the Dust Devils are already 8 games behind North Division leader Everett. Tri-City needs to find a way to start stringing together some wins if it hopes to work its way into contention for the first-half championship.
“When it comes, it’s going to be a pretty good win streak,” Dust Devils pitcher Ryan Warner said. “Everybody in our clubhouse knows it will come at some point. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
When Tri-City (6-11) begins a three-game series against Spokane at 7:15 p.m. today at Gesa Stadium, it’ll also be facing some unprecedented high temperatures within the friendly confines of its home park.
A heat advisory is in effect for today and Tuesday, when record temperatures are expected in the Mid-Columbia region. With afternoon temperatures expected to soar between 102 and 107 degrees, and not much relief in the evening, the Dust Devils players, coaches and fans must take as many precautions as possible to avoid heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
“If anybody is ready for it, it’s those guys who have been in Scottsdale (Ariz.), where it’s 110 degrees every day. Some might even be welcoming it,” Dust Devils vice president and general manager Derrel Ebert said, referring to the team’s extended spring training site. “This certainly isn’t something that happens all the time, although we have experienced temperatures in the 100s. We encourage people to stay hydrated and drink lots of water.”
Dust Devils manager Drew Saylor, a Wadsworth, Ohio, native who withstood the high temperatures and humidity that came with Midwest summers, added a more playful suggestion.
“Drink water, wear light clothing. If they allow Supersoakers, bring Supersoakers,” he said.
Michael Benjamin has had perhaps the most experience of any Dust Devil as far as playing in high heat. The Colorado Rockies’ 13th-round draft pick out of Arizona State has seen the temperature rise to as much as 115 degrees.
“I definitely know about heat. No matter where you’re at, it’s never fun. It’s like opening up a hot oven, with all that heat coming at you constantly,” said the third baseman, who will truly be playing the hot corner against Spokane. “It’s all about preparation. You prepare the night before, knowing there’s going to be extra things thrown at you that could take away from your game. You’ve got to block it out and play baseball.”
Benjamin said the fans may have it even worse than the players, sitting in direct heat for nine innings amid a baked concrete concourse.
“We definitely had some good fans at ASU who showed up on Sunday afternoons. Those are the most loyal fans,” said Benjamin, who is tied for third on the Dust Devils with six runs scored. “Bring an umbrella and a lot of sunscreen.”
League leaders: Dust Devils shortstop Alec Mehrten is currently leading the NWL with a .391 batting average (18-for-46) and a .540 on-base percentage. He’s trailed in the batting race by Salem-Keizer’s Tyler Hollick at .387 (24-for-62). Spokane’s top hitter is Chris Garia (.237), who leads the Indians with three HRs and 10 RBIs. Tri-City reliever Trent Blank continues to lead the NWL with four saves. Spokane starter Kelvin Velasquez (0-1, 3.65 ERA) is tied for third in the NWL with 17 strikeouts. Dust Devils’ starter Jayson Aquino is third in innings pitched with 23.
Offensive offense: The Dust Devils and Indians are among the worst-hitting teams in the NWL. Spokane is hitting .196 as a team, tied for last in the league with Eugene. The Indians have scored just 58 runs in their first 16 games, an average of 3.62 runs a game. Tri-City is hitting .221 as a team, good for sixth in the NWL but has scored a league-low 53 runs through 17 games, a 3.11 average. The Dust Devils are still looking for their first home run of the year.