Rain changes the name of game for baseball coach


There is a 40 percent chance that today will be a washout. Today is a Saturday in early June, a time when hundreds of events from birthday parties to baseball games are scheduled to be held outside. The last time I looked, the forecast called for a 40 percent chance of scattered showers.

Now showers, as veteran weather report readers know, are different from rain. Showers are bursts of precipitation. Rain, however, means steady precipitation. If it rains, you're going to get wet. If it showers, there is a good chance you can take cover and emerge later to push away the puddles.

I know this because for the past few weeks I have been one of the guys watching weather reports and driving around with a rake, a shovel and a broom rattling in the trunk. The broom disperses puddles. The grass rake aerates soggy soil. The shovel hauls dirt. I have been toting these tools because I help coach a baseball team for 9- and 10-year-olds.

And as anyone connected with kids' baseball games can tell you, neither wind nor rain, nor a close relative's wedding can prevent a game from being played. Especially in June, when many teams are getting ready to start the playoffs.

The playoffs are the bonus rounds of kids baseball. Teams go through the regular season, then some enter playoffs. In the playoffs, games keep getting played until one team beats all its opponents. Rain during the regular season presents rescheduling problems. Rain during the playoffs can be a logistical nightmare.

The other night for instance, I was in a roomful of coaches who were sweating out all the details of this weekend's scheduled games and weather forecast. It appeared to me as though almost every team, except the one I helped coach, had a shot at improving its record enough to make it to the playoffs.

Provided it didn't rain.

Four teams, the Toppers, Pilots, Mustangs and Pioneers were fighting for the final playoff spot. Three teams, the Tigers, Shamrocks and Royals were already in. Moreover, the Pioneers were trying to play a make-up game with the Patriots, a game that, according to Pioneer coach Rich Hollander, had already been rained out at least twice. If the Pioneers won that game, they then had to finish off a game with the Pilots that had been stopped earlier in the season with the score tied at 2-2.

The Hornets, the team I helped Steve Pollock coach, has not been burdened with worrying about playoff weather. We did not win enough games to make the playoffs. Maybe next year. During the regular season, however, I did my dance with the weather gods.

On gray, game days when I should have been pounding away at a computer, I found myself staring out office windows looking at the puddles of water down on the street. Movement in the puddles told me it was raining and that the evening's game was in jeopardy. Next I would study the horizon. Did the distant sky look dark and foreboding or light and hopeful?

My window work was usually inconclusive, so I would return to the computer and read what folks in the newspaper business call the "weather basket." This basket, like the Weather Channel on TV, told me intimate details about fronts moving from Charleston to Philadelphia. What it didn't tell me was whether or not my 6 o'clock game would be washed out.

To find that out I had to travel to the ball field a few hours before game time, and make a guess. I tried to play weatherman. The field looked muddy, the weather basket warned of tornadoes in Virginia. So I postponed our battle with the Colonials. A few hours after my ruling, the skies cleared and I later heard that other kids had frolicked on the allegedly unplayable turf.

I was determined to play the next game, a battle with the Royals. It stopped raining an hour before the scheduled start. I took my tools to the field and struggled with the puddles. I had put about two shovelfuls of dirt into a swamp near the pitcher's mound, when the skies opened. It was a downpour that would have scared Noah.

No game.

An hour before the start of our game with the Mustangs there was a lake between second and third base. I filled the lake in with dry soil removed from a dirt mound I found behind the backstop.

When I was digging, I felt my shovel hit something. I unearthed two buried baseballs. I kept these "mud balls" and rubbed them every time a storm cloud threatened. After the mud balls joined the team, we did not have a single rain out.

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