Friday, June 10, 2016

The Forecast Calls for Frustration

Our Florida road-trip was generally a success and a pleasure. The prominent exception was Wednesday, when thunderstorms soaked most of Southern Florida. A USGS rain gauge in Manatee County, south of Tampa-St. Pete, measured 7.52 inches of rain over a six-hour period. Wind gusts reached 45 mph.

Screen capture courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

Unsurprisingly, both our 10:30 am and 6:35 pm games were rained out. Equally unsurprising was how the teams showed a lack of consideration for their fans—or indulged in absurd optimism, if you prefer—by waiting until the last possible moment to call the games. This is not the first time this has happened to Melvin or me but we still fell for the trick.

Our most memorable experience in this regard was the 2010 Christmas in July game at Progressive Field, at which an Indians employee emphatically told me the team would not have us sit through a series of rain delays if the game was not going to be completed. In the end, we saw about two hours of baseball and for almost three, watched Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and out-of-town games on the scoreboard.

And who can forget the July 13, 2014 match-up between the Yankees and Orioles? After 99 minutes and five innings, the Birds were ahead 3-1 when the grounds crew had to tarp the field. We then sat around Camden Yards until after midnight, despite the fact that everyone who had a "smart phone" could see for themselves that there was no chance of the rest of the game being played.

The May 4 forecast was unambiguous as well but I called the Flying Tigers front office anyway. The affable woman I spoke with—Maria Walls, I believe—disagreed with my assessment, telling me the radar on the local television station indicated that the skies would clear. The team still planned to play the game, she said unequivocally.

So, Melvin and I finished packing and drove to Lakeland only to learn an hour-and-a-half later that the game had been postponed. We had breakfast at the Reececliff Family Diner, where signs over the counter advised us to "EAT PIE FIRST". We wished that we had. A serrated knife was no match for Melvin's country ham.

Melvin and I turned our attention to the Clearwater Threshers. It had been raining for more than four hours when the team posted its daily game notes to twitter at 8:50 am (5:50 PT). Thirteen minutes later, the team tweeted that the gates would open at 9:30, an hour before game time.

At 9:33, they posted the starting line-up, which was followed a minute later by a note about the starting pitcher, Michael Mariot, who was pitching in the minor leagues following a spring training ankle sprain. Four messages in less than an hour, all saying that the game would be played.

At 10:19, the Threshers tweeted, "Gates are open, but the tarp is on the field and the rain continues. The game will start in a delay." I repeat, "The game will start...." Similar information, if I can call it that, was posted to the team facebook page.

At 11:30, Clearwater finally postponed the game and Melvin and I took a break from chasing after games that weren't going to get played. Our first stop was Solomon's Castle, the home-slash-gallery-slash-tourist trap of Howard Solomon. Getting there was not half the fun, as the Cunard Line like to proclaim; it was considerably more fun.

We had a late lunch at the Linger Lodge, checked into the Victor Lundy-designed (1958) Warm Mineral Springs Motel and went for a beer at Fat Point Brewing—the Ryeght Angle IPA is particularly good. A second pint would have been enjoyable but it was time to drive to Charlotte Sports Park.

"The rain is gone & the game is set for 6:35 PM," the Charlotte Stone Crabs had tweeted in the middle of the afternoon. When game time came around, however, it was postponed. We found out from the guy who was about to charge us to park; he had only just learned himself.

If Melvin and I had known sooner, we would have driven back to Tampa and watched the Dodgers and Rays again. This is why I find the way teams treat their fans so frustrating: they act as if we don't have anything else to do, as if our time isn't important.

Only once do I remember feeling like a team was being honest with me; on Independence Day in 2013. The Cincinnati Reds knew how bad the weather was—the Doppler radar was televised in the ballpark (below)—but they gave it to us straight. The Fourth of July was the last game of their only home series against the Giants; the Reds really wanted to avoid a postponement if it could, they told us in candor.

In the end, Cinci had to call the game but at least we knew what the team was thinking. Why can't more teams be more forthcoming? Applying the logic of cui bono, "to whose profit?," I think teams keep fans hanging around the stadium so we buy over-priced food and drink. After all, they have dragged the concession stand workers out to the ballpark and somebody has to pay their wages.

I have made this accusation directly to team personnel, who respond that it is the umpires who are responsible for calling games. Factually correct, but the umpiring crew gets the forecast from the home team, who I have also been told have a considerable say in the decision. And what is in it for the umpires to keep the fans hanging? Less travel? Follow the money, as I have said before.

So, that was the third day of our Florida trip. Not the first time we got dicked by a baseball team, probably not the last. Frustrating nonetheless.

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