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Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Playbook celebrates summer snow in Butte

By Thomas Neumann

Snow and America’s pastime typically don’t mix very well.

Of course, baseball is primarily played during the spring and summer, so it’s rarely a concern. Sure, snow causes occasional postponements in Northern cities in early April ... and sometimes even in the postseason.

Otherwise, no worries. Leave the snow boots in the basement. Right?

Wrong.

Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of a snowout in a Pioneer League game between the Idaho Falls Gems and the Butte Copper Kings. On Aug. 22, 1992, at Alumni Coliseum on the campus of Montana Tech in Butte, the teams were in the seventh inning when the game was called -- reportedly because snowflakes were too large for players to see the ball. At the time, the Gems, an Atlanta Braves affiliate, held a 4-3 lead over the Copper Kings, an affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

Bruce Sayler, who covered the game for The Montana Standard, told ESPN Playbook it might be the most bizarre event he covered in more than three decades at the newspaper.

“We get snow in the summer every once in a while,” Sayler said. “But those storms usually come in June. That’s the one time I can remember an August storm like that.”

Indeed, overcast skies dumped 2.5 inches of snow, and the temperature dipped to 23 degrees, a record low for that date.

Butte general manager Mark Ruckwardt had players crowded into his office around the ballpark’s only heater as he described the evening in a postgame interview with the Associated Press.

"It was 88 degrees yesterday, so I'd say, yes, this was unusual," Ruckwardt told the AP. "Just another crazy day in minor league baseball, I guess. ... The snow got harder as the game went on. I'd say about an inch has accumulated in the last hour.”

The following day, a Pioneer League game between the Billings Mustangs and the Lethbridge Mounties in Alberta also was snowed out.

Sayler said the Gems' team and staff wanted to hit the road right away after the game in Butte was called because driving conditions were deteriorating. But that was easier said than done.

“There were a number of Hispanic players on the Idaho Falls team who had never seen snow before,” Sayler said. “Before they could get going, players kept jumping off the bus so they could throw snowballs.”

Another witness who wasn’t used to seeing snow was the Miami Maniac, the baseball mascot of the University of Miami, who was making an appearance at the game. The Copper Kings reportedly hoped the mascot could help attract a crowd of 2,000 for the game, but only about 400 fans turned out to brave the chilly conditions.

"Well, at least it was good for the Maniac," Ruckwardt said. "He got some great pictures of him in the snow."

As it turns out, Alumni Coliseum is currently being dismantled as Montana Tech renovates its adjoining football facility. The venue, which sits at an altitude of 5,800 feet in the Rocky Mountains, played host to baseball for 50 years.