The Duluth Huskies hosted their first "Hot Stove" gathering at Wade Stadium on Wednesday, and for naysayers, the weather almost seemed fit for the Huskies' home opener as it was 45 degrees and drizzling.
Just a few days before that, there was more than six inches of snow in spots - 13 days from June! - but the fans that came out Wednesday didn't let that give them the blues.
Inside Wade Stadium's concourse, the mood was upbeat and festive, with Adam Herman and Slamming Doors playing music and fans enjoying free samples of Log Home Wood Fired Pizza and Ruth's Gourmet meatless burgers and balls, and Wade Wit, the Huskies' signature beer, available for purchase.
"Look at the turnout tonight. This is just awesome," said Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig, beaming with pride. "On a crappy day, we thought we might get 30 or 40 people, but we said let's do it anyway and see what happens. A lot of people have showed up, coming in and out. We've probably had close to 200 people here already. It's going to be an exciting year."
The Huskies, the 2018 Northwoods League runner-up, will officially play ball with a new season starting at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday when they play at Thunder Bay. The Huskies' home opener is 3:05 p.m. Sunday when they host Eau Claire. The early forecast for Sunday calls for partly cloudy conditions and a high of 62, which will seem downright tropical compared to what the Northland has had, but even if it isn't ideal, the artificial turf at Wade Stadium can handle just about everything Mother Nature throws at it.
"Between Duluth Denfeld and Duluth Marshall, they wouldn't have got in any home games this year if not for that field," Huskies fan Jon Schwarzkopf said. "That saved them."
Schwarzkopf would know. He's a super fan of many sports, at many levels. He's also an avid racing fan, so he's seen how the Northland's dirt tracks haven't been able to put the pedal down this spring due to the weather. That's not the case at the Wade.
Nearby, former Minnesota Duluth hockey player Skeeter Moore was in attendance. Moore is in his fourth year serving as a Huskies host family. He said he prefers hosting position players, because pitchers are a different breed like goalies.
Moore, a 1982 Duluth East graduate, fondly recalls both playing at Wade Stadium and spectating.
"We used to have a smelt fry right in the stands during UMD baseball games. I'll never forget that," Moore said. "This is a great facility, and once you get here, it's a blast, and then you're hooked."
The general consensus among the Huskies and their fans this past week was get the lousy weather out of the way before the season starts.
About 40 percent of the Huskies' roster hails from California. That must have made Memorial Day feel downright chilly when the Huskies were greeted by 43-degree temperatures and a 20-mph wind off the lake for their first practice.
Pitcher Logan VanWey of Missouri Southern State played only the first half of the season for the Huskies last year and joked he had to stick around this summer just to see if the weather warmed beyond the tundra level (he was actually on a pitch count in 2018).
"A lot of the California boys, I don't know if they're liking this weather just yet, but it's going to warm up eventually," VanWey said.
Veteran coach Stu Pederson wasn't taking any chances Monday, with enough layers of clothing and ear protection he looked like he could have gone snowmobiling.
New manager Marcus Pointer was with the Huskies as pitching coach last year and also has coached in Alaska. He paused when asked which place, Alaska or Duluth, had better weather.
"Here in late June and August, but Alaska wasn't too bad," Pointer said. "I was pleasantly surprised with it."
Pointer's California-based coaching staff includes new addition Anthony Lim of De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. Lim said he's played in some rough weather, but not this time of year.
But hey, on Monday, at least it wasn't raining, sleeting or snowing like a week earlier.
"I talked to (general manager) Greg Culver over the winter and he said it hit 50-below just last week," Lim said. "I said, 'I think I'll wait until May to come out.' "