There were several moments of significant hubbub at Nationals Park last Wednesday evening. There was Kyle Schwarber’s would-be-fielder’s-choice-turned-infield-single that extended the Nats’ half of the second. There was Joe Ross’ RBI single an inning later to give the Nats an extra run. There was, perhaps most boisterously of all, the nude streaker that took a buttocks-first slip on the puddling infield tarp about an hour into the fourth-inning rain delay. He then shimmied into the tarp’s tube, momentarily evaded security, and was finally handcuffed in a slippery spectacle. Then there were muddled cheers of the remaining fans, two hours into the delay, who spied a small band of grounds crew looking primed to work on the field, which had withstood an hour-long downpour followed by a light drizzle.
It was this last cheer that was saddest of all–not because it was the long-awaited joy of a deserving faithful, but because it was a false hope, teased but unanswered by an organization that has proven, through the thick and thin of disappointing seasons, a World Series win, and a global pandemic, that it is simply incompetent in handling rain delays.
Years of puzzling decisions and poor communication during such precipitous events came to a head on July 6, 2017 when the Nationals delayed a game by three hours for rain that never fell. That night accidentally turned into a great memory personally, but only because I was not planning to attend the game in the first place. Thousands of paying fans left during the unnecessary delay, having spent good money to sit before an empty field.
Perhaps hoping to divert Google searches of “Nationals rain delay” away from one of the most inexcusable customer service debacles in recent baseball memory, the Nats signed a tarp sponsorship deal with Skittles early the next month, adding a splash of color to their painful delays.
A week later, I saw the tarp firsthand when I attended what was supposed to be a game with my dad and little brother. After batting practice, the rain began and the tarp was rolled out. We spent an hour on the concourse, with still no announcement promulgated to the fans, before I elected we depart, knowing the severity of the rain left little hope for the game to be played.
According to a Washington Post article from that day, the Giants’ manager was informed of the postponement more than 2.5 hours into the delay. Even still, the official announcement to the fans was not made for an additional 30 minutes.
Wednesday night, it took over three hours for the Nationals to finally announce the game’s postponement. Allegedly, players had already begun departing the park and cleaning staff were already beginning their rounds before the fans were informed.
Through all of these delays, the only conduit of communication between the fan and Big Team is the park’s jumbotron, which no matter the exact wording, only states the fact of the delay and boldly asks for attentiveness to updates. Someone, somewhere, knows something. Why the fans are always the last to learn of a decision made long before behind closed doors is either the result of organizational incompetence or a sadistic power grab by a person who knows he holds it and simply doesn’t care which innocent, working class baseball fans are the victims of it.
I assume the former is true. But during last week’s delay, concession stands were trying to close and, even after the weather had passed, ushers refused to let fans back to their seats. It’s possible the latter is partially true.
It’s not difficult to keep fans happy at a world-class stadium showcasing an excellent sport. Fans don’t care if it rains. In such a contingent circumstance, all that’s necessary to maintain their loyalty is an intelligent decision, made and communicated efficiently. That such an obvious, easy duty has been overlooked and abdicated so spectacularly, I fear, indicates a systemic blindness that, if indeed it trickles from the top, may manifest itself in due time on the field. And in that case, no amount of Skittles can sweeten the product.