If a high fly is lost in a snowstorm and nobody on either team sees the ball until it appears suddenly in the right field corner, is it fair or foul?
For that matter, if a sudden blizzard arrives during a ballgame, but the infield is bone dry and nobody is even wet, should you have a "snow delay" on account of low visibility? At least you could de-ice the outfielders. Or give Jay Gibbons goggles and radar equipment.
That is just a taste of the questions that were raised by the longest and most bizarre Opening Day in Orioles history. Actually, the Baltimore victory, 6-5 in 13 innings, took so long it was both Opening Day and Opening Night.
Everybody knows, in almost every baseball game, you'll probably see something you never saw before. But when it's Opening Day in a snowstorm in March, you could see a game in which almost nothing happens you've ever witnessed before.
"That's the strangest game I ever saw," said outfielder Gibbons. "I lost a ball in the snow. Then, the sun came out and it was so bright I could have lost a ball in that." By the end, long after sunset, he could also have lost a ball in the stadium lights.
The game ended when a hard-hit, but routine line drive, eluded Cleveland center fielder Milton Bradley. If Bradley hadn't moved at all, the ball might've hit him in the head. But he broke in several steps.
Why? Maybe he got an "Advance to Boardwalk" card.
As if that fluke final play was not enough, the Orioles were also saved when, down to their last strike, the Indians gave them a gift of a game-tying run in the 12th inning on a passed ball. The pitch, knee high, was a swinging strike, yet the ball glanced off catcher Josh Bard's glove.
"It's a wacky game," said Manager Mike Hargrove, recalling the snowflakes as big as quarters. "There for a couple of pitches, it was stealth baseball. It would be snowing hard in left field, but not in right field, or heavy in right field but the sun would be out in left field."
Because the real blizzard -- following some harmless flurries -- was so brief, it caught both umpires and Hargrove by surprise. Nobody protested or tied to stop play. Actually, who knew?
Umpires know about rain. Or fog. Or bad stadium lights. Or wet grounds. But who knows much about fluke snowstorms? It's the summer game, right? Even if baseball now starts in March so that its three-tiered playoffs have a chance to end before November.
"I haven't seen a fly ball lost in the snow since we were in Toronto a few years ago," said Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations, who grew up in New Hampshire without seeing such things.
However, during that few-pitch visit to the North Pole, Ellis Burks lofted a high fly to right field, about 20 feet fair and well short of the wall with two men on base. Well, that's what I thought I saw. There were a thousand versions of a ball nobody really saw. Gibbons thought it was a line drive. Coach Terry Crowley said, "That ball was way foul. It must have hit the box seat railing to bounce back on the field at that angle."
"I had no idea," said Gibbons, who, not quite the subtle veteran, put his arms out to his sides so everybody, including the base runners, knew he saw nothing. "I finally heard it hit the wall, the railing, something, and it came shooting back over and almost hit me in the leg."
Only one Oriole, pitching coach Mark Wiley, had ever seen a play like it. "I once won a winter ball game in Mexico, 4-3, when we got an inside-the-park, grand slam home run with two outs in the ninth because the fog was so thick nobody could see anything.
"There was a ground ball past first. The first baseman never saw it. The ball rolled all the way around the outfield wall and the right fielder just stood there. He never knew what was happening and everybody ran around the bases."
Who was the outfielder?
"Actually," said Wiley, "it was Jerry Hairston's father [Jerry Sr.]."
Fitting. Hairston Jr., was thrown out at third, killing a ninth-inning rally, on a terrible sacrifice bunt attempt that only went three inches in front of the plate.
"That was an aggressive, not-very-smart play," said Hargrove, trying to praise and blame a young player in one sentence. "That's an example of the old expression. . . . what is that expression. . . . Once, shame on me; twice, shame on you? Or once shame on you. . . . Oh, whatever it is. You know the one: Try not to be a dumbbell too often."
That's what a game like this will do to a first-rate baseball mind. You're left with mashed potatoes for brain cells. After all, this game had seven errors, a half-dozen stumbling outfield catches and a 3-hour 45-minute clinic in how not to sacrifice bunt.
Attendance was 46,257, of whom 46,000 probably vowed never to return. Actually, those who enjoy comedy might have become addicted to baseball.
"I'm an L.A. guy. I'm not used to this snow," said Gary Matthews Jr., who was credited with the last game-winning hit. "When you win, none of it matters. It was an emotional win, invigorating."
And doubly so because the Orioles finished last season with a 4-32 collapse that defied belief. To start the next season with a loss because of a snowstorm would have been a horrid omen.
"This is the last time I am going to talk about last year," Hargrove said. "Until August 23rd [when the Orioles were 63-63] we were better than anybody thought we could be. The last five weeks we were worse than anybody ever thought we could be. I don't care to ever see anything like that or go through it again. Now, last year is [finally] dead and gone."
If the first game of this season is any prelude, Hargrove should be careful what he wishes for. This kind of stuff could age you fast.