By AJ Mazzolini
The Columbus Dispatch
Inside Huntington Park yesterday afternoon, the Columbus Clippers were an inning into an eventual blowout of the Rochester Red Wings.
Beyond the park's right-field wall - dodging the day's intense sunshine for a moment - Stu Harris and Scott Gainey were taking in an inning or two during their lunch break.
"We go running every day, and when we can, we make a quick stop here at the knothole," Gainey said, referring to one of several shaded screens in the wall that provide a look into the Huntington Park outfield from Nationwide Boulevard.
Clad in running shorts and sweat-stained T-shirts, the two Nationwide Insurance employees were a contrast with most of the patrons inside.
"We were having an extended lunch and were able to walk over here," said Mike Whitacre, who made the half-mile stroll from the Huntington Center in business clothes with co-worker John Ishmael.
They were not alone.
"There's been a huge increase of that atmosphere," said Ken Schnacke, the Clippers' president and general manager. "You'll probably see extra shirts and ties around the ballpark."
Since the Clippers moved into Huntington Park in 2009, day games like yesterday's have dotted the schedule more often.
When the team played in Cooper Stadium on the West Side, the Clippers typically played three to five midweek games that started late in the morning or early in the afternoon. That number rose to six in 2009, the team's first season in Huntington Park, and to eight this season.
The Clippers have four more midweek day games scheduled, the next being June 29.
"Baseball in the sunshine is a long-standing tradition," Schnacke said of the days before parks installed lights for night games.
The convenience of an early-afternoon first pitch and the Downtown setting helped usher a near-sellout crowd of 9,867 into the ballpark for the Clippers' 7-1 win over Rochester.
The attendance was the second-highest for a game this season and surpassed the team's season average by about 2,800. That's pretty common, Schnacke said, often because of promotional themes.
Yesterday's theme was Senior Day, allowing central Ohio's older population to enjoy the sport without staying out late.
When to schedule such a promotion is a bit of a guessing game, Schnacke said, because of the high temperatures that can accompany summer afternoons.
"I do prefer an evening game," said Naomi Tucker, 70, citing the sun's glaring rays. Tucker, along with three friends, did manage to snag some of the few seats void of direct sunshine. For others who couldn't find shade, the team did what it could by passing out ice cubes.
Not everything about day games is as shining as yesterday's sun. Schnacke said a downside to afternoon baseball is that the area around Huntington Park gets clogged with traffic, making open parking spots a rarity. Parking lots that are abandoned in the evening when Downtown employees head home are still full for noon starts.
"In that aspect, it's kind of a careful balance," Schnacke said.