The Associated Press
The dog days of August kept Saratoga’s horses tucked away in their stables. The thoroughbreds weren’t alone in seeking refuge from the intense heat wave that gripped the U.S. again Wednesday. Temperatures were near 100 in some places and hotter in others, and it wasn’t pleasant. “You’re sweating, you’re trying to keep your grip dry,” said Andre Agassi, who played Tuesday in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington. “Sweat is coming down past your eyes when you’re about to hit a ball. When you go up to hit your serve, water’s flying.” At least he made it onto the court. Saratoga Race Course canceled all nine of its thoroughbred races because of the heat and humidity. It was not immediately known whether the 142-year-old track had previously lost a full day of racing because of weather. Trainers, jockeys, the track veterinarian and New York Racing Association officials met in the morning and unanimously decided to abandon the day’s card. “The consensus in the room was to take the ultimate precaution and cancel the entire card for the safety of all participants,” NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said. The best NFL players in training camp could hope for was extra water and later practices when the sun wasn’t so strong. Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs delayed the start of a two-hour workout from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. “We can’t afford to miss practice or cut practice short, and I think by going at night we’ll have a better chance to get all of our work in and get out of the heat,” Gibbs said. “You want to be careful with the players.” The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills also opted for more optimal hours. Even so, Redskins guard Randy Thomas is not getting a whole lot of relief. “I’m 310 (pounds), I eat bad this is not like sweat, it’s like grease coming off my head,” Thomas said. “It feels like the sun is on my shoulders and is rolling on my back, back and forth, I don’t even feel the breeze, even though the leaves are blowing.”
Relief wasn’t expected before today or Friday in the East. Cooler weather in the South wasn’t as predictable. Surprisingly, Florida was a safe haven from the heat, with temperatures forecast to remain in the 80s. But even those from warm, even tropical, climates aren’t used to this. “I don’t care where you are from, nobody likes sweating through their shirt,” said Boston Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who was born in Puerto Rico and spent seven seasons in Miami with the Florida Marlins. Red Sox manager Terry Francona made batting practice optional Tuesday and Wednesday before games against Cleveland in steamy Fenway Park. Francona even had coaches and batboys shagging balls for the players who chose to take BP swings. The Indians also called off extra hitting sessions and stepped up reminders to encourage players to continue drinking. “The key is hydration and more hydration,” Red Sox trainer Jim Rowe said. “These guys are drinking something 24-7.” That’s OK for the 50 or so guys in uniform. But there are also 36,000 fans in the stands who won’t have the option of popping into an air-conditioned clubhouse. For them, the Red Sox set up a water mister in the rightfield concourse. Yankees manager Joe Torre wasn’t fazed, even though it was 97 degrees when New York’s Chien-Ming Wang threw the first pitch Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays. “I played in St. Louis on artificial surface. I don’t even think about it,” he said as beads of sweat formed on his upper lip. It was even hotter during warmups. A thermometer resting on a TV camera down the firstbase line read 106 degrees two hours before gametime. That didn’t stop injured outfielder Hideki Matsui from donning long sleeves under a workout shirt.
The Yankees limited use of some of their out-of-town scoreboard, video board and televisions in the stadium the past two nights to preserve energy, but music still blared during batting practice. Players’ energy and strength was still the most important thing to monitor. Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora has been weighing his players before and after practice on days the team conducts two sessions. If players haven’t restored fluids lost in the morning, they could be held out in the afternoon. The Falcons have forced liquids into players, Mora said, but some have still become dehydrated. “I don’t look at those guys and say they’re not in shape,” Mora said. “Sometimes a leaner athlete can’t stand to lose the weight as much as a bigger guy. To me, it’s safety first and toughness second.” The dangers became all the more evident in 2001 when Minnesota lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke following a sweltering practice. A 15-year-old high school football player died Tuesday after collapsing one day earlier following an offseason workout in an Atlanta suburb. He became at least the fifth football player nationwide to die this summer from heat-related problems. The New Orleans Saints, who are training in Jackson, Miss., saw the power of nature last year when they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Now they are being educated on how to handle the heat. Players watched instructional videos when they arrived at camp on how to minimize dehydration and overheating. Saints coach Sean Payton scrapped the tradition of having the offense practice in white and the defense in black. Now he alternates to give defenders a break from the dark colors. But on this day maybe the dogs at Seabrook Greyhound Park in New Hampshire had it best. They didn’t race and were kept in air-conditioned kennels.