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Rochester Red Wings, and Milo the Bat Dog, open season Friday

A view of people playing baseball from the crowd on a sunny day
Emily Hunt
A crowd watches a baseball game at what's now known as Innovative Field in this file photo.

The Rochester Red Wings open their season at home Friday. First pitch: 4:05 p.m. The weather forecast calls for high of 48 degrees with a 19% chance of rain.

And what about that big snow pile in the parking lot at the newly rechristened Innovative Field?

Fortunately, opening day against the delightfully named Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs is also Toboggan Hat giveaway night. But as always, General Manager Dan Mason says if it’s not 50 degrees for the season’s first game, fans will get a free ticket to any game in April or May.

“Yeah, it’s the earliest we’ve ever started,” Mason says. “But, you know, we just play the days that we were told we’re supposed to play. So nothing we can do about it.”

Last year, the Class AAA International League teams were already experimenting with larger bases. And a pitch clock, to get pitchers to stop dilly-dallying around on the mound. The league is also limiting how much a team can shift its defenders around the field, based on the hitter’s tendencies. All changes that Major League Baseball is adopting this year.

“I’m as big a traditionalist, as you know, as there is,” Mason says. “But also these rules are trying to get the game back to where how it used to be. So I think from that perspective, I think fans are going to be excited about that.”

If that doesn’t fire up the fans, Friday’s opener will be the first of eight games this season featuring Milo the Bat Dog fetching bats. And this will be stadium organist Fred Costello’s 47th year with the team. Both are reasons for optimism for a team that finished eighth out of 10 teams last year in the International League East Division.

The Wings are the top farm team of the Washington Nationals, who finished dead last in the National League East standings last year with a 55-107 record. So there may not be a lot offered by the parent club.

But on Opening Day, hope springs eternal, despite Wednesday evening’s snow. As Mason correctly noted, “We’re tied for first right now.”

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.