Stars align for baseball with rare solar eclipse

April 8th, 2024

Despite the best efforts of the whimsically named likes of Monk Cline, Leech Maskrey, Jumbo Latham, Buttercup Dickerson and an outfielder named Chicken Wolf, the Louisville entry in the American Association in 1882-84 never finished higher than third place. But that forgotten squad, which eventually came to be known as the Colonels and wound up playing eight seasons in the National League, did have an original appellation that suddenly has renewed resonance:

The Eclipse.

Until now, the Louisville team (named, for the record, not specifically for an astronomical event, but a racehorse) was Major League Baseball’s strongest connection to the orbital occurrence in which the disk of the sun is fully obscured by the moon.

But, for the very first time in the history of round objects circling each other in space and ballplayers trying to hit round balls into space, the stars have aligned with the MLB schedule.

Monday’s total solar eclipse will be the first-ever viewable in a city hosting an MLB game. It will actually be viewable in two such cities -- Arlington and Cleveland.

And while the 8:05 p.m. ET first pitch of the Rangers’ home game against the Astros falls well after the total eclipse touches Texas (and will be in a facility with a retractable roof), the gates of Progressive Field will open for the Guardians’ 5:10 p.m. home opener against the White Sox prior to the nearly four minutes of moon-induced blackout.

Although they are outside the path of totality, the Yankees, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Blue Jays will all be hosting games in cities where at least a 90% eclipse will be visible Monday. This will be the last total solar eclipse visible in the 48 contiguous United States until 2044.

“It’s really special,” said Wayne Saxer, a NASA public affairs specialist who is the agency’s lead for sports engagement. “It kind of brings me back to when we landed on the moon. There were 10 home games when we landed on the moon in 1969, and there were teams that stopped play and were relaying the message. This time, it’s not us doing it; it’s the universe doing it.”

Given the timing of this total eclipse, there will be no need to pause play (the Yankees-Marlins game originally scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET was moved to 6:05 p.m. on account of the eclipse).

But the Guardians, who are opening their gates at 2 p.m., will pause admittance to the ballpark during Cleveland’s total eclipse, which will begin at 3:13:46, reach maximum eclipse at 3:15:41 and end at 3:17:35. Because the eclipse won’t be visible from a significant portion of Progressive Field (due to the sun’s location and the ballpark’s architecture), fans will be able to exit and re-enter the ballpark via both the left field and right field gates.

(Fans in Cleveland are also encouraged to download their tickets to their mobile wallets in case of challenging phone connections in what is sure to be a crowded downtown on the day of the eclipse.)

Unlike in 2017, when the most recent total solar eclipse cast a shadow across six teams in the path of totality and featured the first “eclipse delay” in professional baseball history, the Minor League schedule is not especially accommodating to the eclipse.

Only one game is scheduled for Monday, though at least that one game -- between the Triple-A Syracuse Mets and Worcester Red Sox -- will take place in Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium, which is in the path of totality. Gates will open at 2 p.m. for the 5:05 p.m. game, and total darkness will take place at 3:23.

Though off on eclipse day itself, few MiLB teams in the path of totality are getting into the spirit of the celestial event (as outlined in more detail by our own Ben Hill):

  1. The Arkansas Travelers (Double-A affiliate of the Mariners) will wear eclipse-themed jerseys Saturday and Sunday and open the gates of Dickey-Stephens Park on Monday for a “Total Eclipse of the Park” viewing party.
  2. For those in the Cleveland-area looking for a place to stay, the Lake County Captains (High-A affiliate of the Guardians) put Classic Park up on Airbnb for Monday night, allowing a place to take in the eclipse and a place to sleep in the visiting clubhouse, as well as batting cage access, nighttime mini golf and a bedtime story from team mascot Skipper. All this for $5,000.
  3. The Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A affiliate of the Nationals) will host Solarpalooza on eclipse day, featuring live music, space-themed concession specials and autographs sessions with Red Wings players and mascots. This weekend, they’ll play three games as the Moon Rocs, opposite the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who will temporarily suit up as the Space Pigs.

While those events are all in good fun, baseball is also serving a serious purpose in the lead-up to the eclipse. NASA and the MLB Players Association collaborated on the development of video and social content to emphasize eclipse awareness and safe viewing. In collaboration with MLB, NASA will further spread those messages by providing video content to air at MLB stadiums during games this weekend.

“Safety is paramount,” Saxer said. “We want you to see the eclipse; we don’t want it to be the last thing you see.”

NASA agency officials will also be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in several upcoming games.

“We’re at an intersection where people who wouldn’t traditionally be interested in NASA are more interested in NASA,” said Saxer, “and you have NASA going into Major League Baseball games and tapping into an audience that traditionally wouldn’t recognize our brand the way the science community would.”

This is also, it seems, good exposure, all these years later, for the 1882-84 Louisville Eclipse. If you’ve got a Chicken Wolf jersey laying around, now would be a good time to break it out.