How wind patterns drive balls to right field at SU Softball Stadium
Zach Barlow | Asst. Photo Editor
Mike Bosch credits a groundhog for why there have been so many home runs hit to right field at SU Softball Stadium.
The groundhog, which he calls the team’s mascot, lives beyond the right-field fence and occasionally scurries around the bleachers for food. Its mere presence attracts balls its way, said Bosch, Syracuse’s head coach.
However, there are more logical ways to explain the jet stream that has helped send 29.6 percent of home runs hit this year over SU’s right-field fence. It’s not just that there are a handful of powerful left-handed hitters on the team. Seventy-seven percent of Syracuse’s home runs this year have come from right-handed bats.
A dominant westerly wind, a southerly wind blocked by Tennity Ice Pavilion and air pockets created by surrounding areas have contributed to the right-field power alley. These factors will likely come into play again on Wednesday, when Syracuse (23-18, 8-9 Atlantic Coast) hosts Colgate (7-21, 3-5 Patriot) in a doubleheader.
“There really is a big difference, whether it’s righty or lefty, in that general right-center, right-field way,” SU assistant coach Alisa Goler said. “If it gets up in the air and comes off the bat pretty hard, in my opinion, I usually assume it’s going to go out. That’s how big of a difference it is.”
The right-field jet stream was evident most recently in last Wednesday’s doubleheader between SU and Canisius. The Orange smacked three home runs to right or right-center field.
In game 2, Corinne Ozanne didn’t appear to get all of an outside pitch, but she sent it over the right-field fence anyway. A man in a Canisius jacket turned to his right and asked, “What is this, a home run derby?”
Jon Nese, associate head of the undergraduate program in meteorology at Penn State University, examined Syracuse, New York, wind roses, or diagrams. He also looked at the SU Softball Stadium and surrounding area on Google Maps. He explained three reasons for why balls carry out to right field.
First, the dominant wind in Syracuse is westerly, or coming from the west. SU Softball Stadium faces north-northeast, so the sun isn’t in the batter’s view. This means the wind blows across the field and out toward right field, which sits in the east.
Most of the time, the outfield flags in left field indicate the wind is blowing in, toward home plate. Nese said while the flags are not wrong, the dominant wind in Syracuse is still westerly.
Second, Nese said southerly winds are blocked by Tennity Ice Pavilion, which looms right behind the first base dugout. Nese said the pavilion is just high enough to block southerly winds that would blow from the South and push balls toward left field.
“I strongly believe that ice pavilion plays a major role in lessening the impact of a south wind blowing balls out to left field,” Nese said. “I would not put too much stock in what those flags are showing.”
The third reason for the right-field jet stream lies in what surrounds the stadium. In addition to the trees, there is a parking lot behind the left field fence. On a sunny day, the impact of the sun on the asphalt in the parking creates small-scale effects that influence the flags, Nese said.
The air over the parking lot rises because it tends to get warmer than air over, say, nearby dirt. To fill the void over the parking lot, air from surrounding areas — SU Softball Stadium — tends to move toward the lot. This creates small-scale air movements that could impact the flight of balls, Nese said.
“Small scale variations in the wind are very much related to the surface covering, whatever is covering the surface,” Nese said. “For example, an asphalt parking lot will tend to absorb sunlight better than nearby dirt.”
Goler first noticed the jet stream last fall because the team’s lefties, excluding Sydney O’Hara, are not power hitters. Yet when they would pull the ball, it would get out in a hurry.
The jet stream has existed since at least 2009, Jenna Caira’s freshman year at Syracuse. Caira, SU’s all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and earned run average, said while most home runs to the left side of the field would barely clear the fence, right field was a different story.
“It just carried for days,” Caira said. “It’s probably still going. That’s how hard it would go out and carry.”
Syracuse has become a power-hitting team — the Orange is 44th in Division I in home runs per game with .95. But even on balls that stay inside the park, the jet stream can turn what would otherwise be routine fly balls into extra-base hits.
SU assistant coach Kristyn Sandberg acknowledged this fact and said she and Goler teach their hitters how to make the most of the stream. They teach right-handed hitters to work the right-center gap and lefties to pull the ball with runners on.
“It’s a nice home field advantage,” Goler said, “but you just got to hope nobody else hits it in the air over there.”
Published on April 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm