1st of Jun | Story

The sun will come out tomorrow


CLINTON, Iowa | The rain had come steadily and the clouded skies held their grip over Ashford University Field Thursday afternoon. Sam Crews entered the field from his office along the third base line and – squish – his ragged sneakers, worn from days just like these, sunk into the grass and water puddled to the soles. He called for the tarp the night before, as he does every time the forecast calls for a 30 percent or higher chance of rain. Around 3 p.m., the infield remained covered and the tarp soaked and heavy.

“It wouldn’t stop raining,” says Crews, the Clinton LumberKings head groundskeeper. “The warning track was just way too wet. The outfield grass has excellent drainage, but with all the rain we’ve been getting, it was starting to get saturated and just wouldn’t be good for the players to play.

“Player safety is my job.”

That rainy Thursday the LumberKings sat in the clubhouse waiting for word on when – or if – they could take the field for batting practice. Most of the players had been there, waiting, for two hours.

“I’ve been in that situation tons of times, and your mindset has to be, ‘We’re playing,’ because if you’re looking forward to not playing, you’re just not mentally prepared the rest of the day,” says second baseman Patrick Brady. “‘We’re playing, we’re playing, we’re playing.’ Any other thought in your head and you’re beat before you go on your field.”

The rain was expected to stop before 9 p.m., two hours after the game’s scheduled start time, but the temperature, only 45, was supposed to keep dropping.

“We knew it was going to be cold and damp and rainy, and no one wants to sit in that unless you’re watching Game 7 of the World Series of the Super Bowl,” says general manager Ted Tornow. “We looked at it and said, ‘Probably from a business standpoint we’d be spending more in payroll and people here working than we would have from fans bringing the revenue in.’”

Tornow is in his 29th season in minor league baseball, his 14th with the LumberKings, and until four years ago, when rain threatened, he waited, hoped the skies would clear and fans showed, then waited some more. The one thing Tornow hated more than rainouts was scheduling doubleheaders, which require more payroll expenditure on the front end.

“I’ve gotten older and maybe just a little smarter,” he says.

The LumberKings didn’t play.

Once the game was called, there were logistics to finalize. The LumberKings wouldn’t face the Kane County Cougars again during the first half, so they would have to make up the game before the Cougars left town. Friday doubleheader.

With four hours before the game was supposed to start, Tornow and his staff had plenty of time to call game-day staff and reschedule for a traditional doubleheader at 5 p.m. Friday, followed by fireworks. He usually calls for doubleheaders to start an hour before the originally scheduled game, but a doubleheader a few years back featured a pair of extra-inning games and the Friday-night fireworks shot off during the early hours of Saturday.

LumberKings manager Eddie Menchaca walked into the clubhouse and told his players the game had been rescheduled and they could stick around if they wanted to. Brady caught a bullpen for a teammate, went home around 4:30 p.m. and then, unusual for a Thursday night, went to the grocery store.

There was little Crews could do but wait out the rain, so he went home and rested before his first doubleheader in charge of the field.

Tornow knew his son had a baseball game the next morning, so he stayed to finish work and turned out the lights at 11:30 p.m.

The office and grounds crew staff returned to the stadium before 9 a.m. Friday to pull the tarp – in the sun, at last.

Crews knew one of his grounds crew members was out of town for the weekend. Then two more called in saying they were sick. His five-man crew was down to two.

“I’m not worried about getting everything done, or the time,” he says. “I just want to get it done smoothly. We’ve done this many times. This is just the first time we have to do it twice in one day.”

The sun shined all day and the temperature reached into the 70s. The weather turned around in less than 24 hours. It was as if the baseball gods were apologizing for the miserable way they allowed May to end.

The weather is part of the game, Tornows says. “There’s no great science when stuff like that happens.”


♦          ♦          ♦

Time for minor league trivia. On July 6, 1989, the Clinton Giants played the Waterloo Diamonds in the longest game, by innings, in the history of the Midwest League. How many innings did the teams play? And who won? (Keep reading for the answer.)

The LumberKings split the doubleheader with the Kane County Cougars, losing the first game, 5-2, before pitching a 2-0 shutout in the second game. In the first game, the LumberKings had the bases loaded in the fifth inning and two men on in the sixth but couldn’t score. In the second game, LumberKings righty Brett Shankin threw all seven innings, gave up seven hits, one walk and struck out two Cougars to get his first win of the year.

Want the answer? The Waterloo Diamonds outlasted the Clinton Giants for a 4-3 win — over 25 very long innings. So long, in fact, that the teams played the first 20 innings on July 6 in Waterloo — the Diamonds scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game — and finished on August 17 in Clinton. The game is still eight innings short of the professional record of 33, played by the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings in 1981.

And in random statistical news, we again have double the numbers. The first game started four minutes late while the second started five minutes later than scheduled. The first pitch of both games was a ball (a little surprising.) The Cougars leftfielder and DH Tim Ferguson led off both games by grounding out to second in the first game and grounding out to third in the second game. The “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung in 1 minute and 23.5 seconds by Nyla Watson, who was appearing in a local production of “Little Shop of Whores.” For dinner we ate a four-rib basket and a taco in a bag, both of which called for finger licking.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com  @CarolynLaWell  @AMinorLgSeason

Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.