Rain Delays I Have Known and Loved

Inspired by the recent rainout of the Southern League All-Star Game, which Michael Kopech was scheduled to start and which included Jordan Guerrero on the roster, here I recount the tale of my favorite rain delay. I’ve worked for three different minor league teams over five years, so I know a bit about how a rainy day can go for the poor souls who work at the park.

-It’s 7:30 in the morning and it’s waiting for us on the field. It’s huge and gray and covered, covered in standing water. The puddles shimmer as they catch the new sunlight. You’re going to step in me, it’s like they’re saying. I’m going to make you you uncomfortably damp. Good morning.

It’s true. 15 of us line up and each grab a canvas loop on the edge of the tarp. Our task is set: run across the top of the tarp, inch of water and all, to the right field warning track, sloughing all the water off in the process, then stepping in it again on the run back. You can hear the gentle burble of the irrigation system as it starts to absorb the excess.

The first step is always the worst. After that, your socks are already wet, so you don’t have to worry. Good morning.

-It’s 7:30 in the morning and it’s still cloudy and we all checked our phones before coming because it was raining when we woke up and they all said 80% chance of rain again at 8 am so maybe we should just sleep in a little bit but it’s a team sport from the field to the front office so everyone shows up at 7:30. The tarp is on the field. After ten minutes, the groundskeeper tells us that we’ll do it in an hour.

-It’s 7:30 in the morning and the tarp is dry. It didn’t even rain last night. The groundskeeper sighs as we all line up.

-It’s 7:50 in the morning and I’m napping in my car.

-It’s 9:00 in the morning and the phone rings. Someone has tickets for tonight’s game and they live an hour and a half away and they were just wondering if they should make the drive and if we think the game will be cancelled. I tell them it’s too early to know.

-It’s 9:00 and I’m changing out of my sweaty tarp clothes and into my fresh shoes and socks. Rule number one: always bring extra shoes and socks.

-It’s 9:30 and I’m still brushing giant grains of infield dirt from my legs. My knee is bleeding and I can’t think of which part of tarp-pulling could have caused it.

-It’s 10:00 and I’m refreshing the radar every ten minutes. There’s a new comment on a team Facebook post! Someone is wondering if the game tonight is still on or do we think it will be cancelled.

-It’s 10:30 and it’s going to rain again. The office is on alert. Everyone perks up when the groundskeeper walks through. Still nothing. Seven interns are scattered in the lobby, waiting. They look how I feel.

-It’s 10:30 and I’m napping on the dugout bench.

-It’s 11:00 and everyone’s dropping everything and jamming on old shoes and picking up gloves and taking phones out of pockets and sprinting outside. Lunch plans are delayed. Emails are left half-typed. The weather is the highest authority on game day.

Four minutes later and if the aliens chose right now to come observe, we’d look like weird bugs engaging in some weird bug ritual, a line of people pushing and unraveling a canvas from a cylinder at breakneck speed, more people coming as ticket office guys and interns jump the railing and run to catch up, tarp beetles rolling tarp. We pin it down and get back up to the concourse before the drizzle turns into a downpour. The sandbags are still wet from yesterday and now I have wet sand all over me.

-It’s 11:30 and the phone is ringing every five minutes with the same question. In desperation, I make a Facebook post explaining that games are almost never called earlier than two hours before game time and we’d update when we could. It does nothing.

-It’s noon but everyone is afraid to take a lunch break because we’re going to have to take it back off soon and nobody wants to be the odd one out.

-It’s 12:30 and the tarp is still there. Someone goes out and gets McDonald’s for everyone. We are trapped. We are at the whim of the tarp. The groundskeeper heads from the field to the office, from the office to the field, and every eye is on him.

-It’s 12:30 and there is a lake in right field. The warning track has become a lazy river. Three members of the grounds crew are trying to sweep it away with a brush. Their yellow rubber boots are apparent from 400 feet away.

-It’s 1:00 but the sky is so dark it could pass for 7 or 8. It is raining. It has always been raining.

-It’s 1:30 and we get an email warning us to prepare to take the tarp off at 2. By now, everyone has checked the forecast and seen the probability of rain from game time onward. We make eye contact with each other and raise our eyebrows about the sheer futility of it all. Of everything.

-It’s 2:00 and we’re charging across right field, across grass that’s still soaked from this morning. Wet socks squelch in wet shoes. The tarp billows up with trapped air so we have to stomp it down with every step back, sending sharp dirt crumbs flying into the air and landing in eyes, mouths, hair. Players are warming up in whatever dry spots they can find. There aren’t many.

-It’s 2:30 and everything I own has become damp. I am on my third pair of shoes and second pair of socks. My gloves retain the shape of my hands after I remove them. I jam on a cap to hide my humidity hair. It will remain there for the next ten hours.

-It’s 3:30 and 31 people have called about the status of tonight’s game. We don’t know. We have access to the same information they do.

-It’s 4:00 and time to start setting up. The dugouts are both flooded, both draining slowly. We have learned to keep things off the ground. My shoes are soaking through just from getting the game ready and I only have one pair left.

-It’s 4:30 and I’ve downloaded a radar app for my phone. I act as if this makes me superior to everyone without this foreknowledge, which it does. I am like a god, casting out morsels of information to gameday employees. They cling to every bit. They know as well as I do that we’re just trying to add structure to our lives.

-It’s 5:30 and the gates are open. There was no line. The sky is still dark and moody, and ushers are toweling off seats. The warning track is a ring of sludge. It’s problematic. The dugout floors have emerged, shiny with wet dirt and sediment, a high-water mark on the walls. The pre-game parade is cancelled for all except those who want to get trapped in mud and sucked down to whatever it is that lies beneath baseball fields, never to be seen again.

-It’s 6:00 and we get the call over our walkie-talkies. Fans are confused and dismayed when, apparently out of nowhere and with no coordination, every employee stops what they’re doing and books it to the first-base dugout. There are boos as the tarp is rolled out, but they fade as the rain begins. There’s no time for us to pin it before it starts raining in earnest so the frantic pace relaxes. It’s easier getting soaked when you know it’s coming. We get soaked.

-It’s 6:30 and the game is officially delayed, the worst-case scenario. People are in ponchos, huddling under the safety of the concourse. Prospective tarp-pullers are under the dugout lip, sharing space and water with players. I wonder if I have enough time to run up and get my last pair of dry shoes. The players have begun to explore a new type of interpretative pump-up dance.

-It’s 7:00 and we’re taking the tarp off the field to cheers and yells.

-It’s 7:30 and we’re putting the tarp on the field, straining through sheets of rain so thick we can barely see through it. The sound of vuvuzelas fills the air as everyone is yanked back and off their feet by a tarp fold. Wet shoes dig for traction in wet grass. It is a battlefield.

-It’s 8:00 and someone asks me if I know when the game will be back on. “I know as much as you do,” I tell him. “No you don’t,” he says. “I’ve had 12 beers.”

-It’s 8:30 and it’s hopeless, my feet will be wet for the rest of the night. The implications of this are disturbing, given that this game will never end and we will die here, forgotten by time and the sun.

-It’s 9:00 and they took the tarp off while I was running around trying to perform some task of Hercules or other. Instead of living legend, I am walking mildew.

-It’s 10:00 and I’ve forgotten what my parents look like.

-It’s 11:00 and the game is over, a thought that once upon a time would have brought unrestricted joy but now comes with baggage. Different factions wrap up their post-game duty and each make their way to the first-base dugout, as everyone must in the end. Promos. Tickets. Grounds crew. There’s resentment. Most of it is aimed at the grounds crew, as if weather patterns are their fault. One last time, the ritual is performed. The tarp sleeps on the field, shiny, heavy and gray, waiting. Waiting for us to lift it up again.

“7:30,” says the groundskeeper. It is day two of the homestand, which means that eventually, this will end, which means that eventually, it will begin again.

-It’s midnight and we go home to get our six hours of sleep. It’s drizzling again as we walk to our cars. It’s ok. We are one with rain. We’ll see it again soon. It’s almost 7:30.

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Filed under: The Silo

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