This weekend's brush with Hurricane Irene got me thinking about some of the waterlogged nights I've spend at Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium over the years. Rain and games don't really mix - even in football, where hearty, big guys boast about playing through just about everything weather-wise. They certainly did at the soggiest sporting event I ever attended, a Canadian Football League game on 33rd Street during the first year of the Baltimore Stallions. The heavens opened and didn't close - it rained so much that the water cascaded down the upper deck, creating a waterfall appearance. But if memory serves, the Stallions played on while the fans sought refuge wherever they could find it.
Baseball, of course, is a lot calmer when it comes to rain (well, at least it's supposed to be). If it rains, and the rain becomes too intense, the umpire in charge simply motions to the grounds crew, which efficiently unrolls the tarp and covers the field until the cloudburst has passed. In extreme cases, games are called or postponed. The fans go home and the players - unless you're Rick Dempsey and you want to pantomime a Babe Ruth walk-off homer - wait until a makeup game can be scheduled. (OK, some fans don't go home, as reported in this dubious story earlier this season, but that's another topic for another day).
Memorial Stadium presented special challenges during inclement weather, with water puddling on the outfield and along the warning tracks. That was, of course, in the days before the revolutionary drainage system that was installed at Camden Yards, revolutionizing how rain affected games. It didn't seem to matter how ridiculously heavy the downpour was - the water just disappeared and, faster than you could say, "Boog's pit beef," the game had resumed with nary a trace of what had occurred.
That's not to say that the then-new stadium didn't have its bugs. Back in its infancy, one deluge not only caused a rain delay, but led to one of the funniest moments in O's history. The game was in a delay and the drain in the home team's dugout became clogged. It didn't take long for the water to fill up the dugout and the collected precipitation was soon threatening to eclipse the bench usually inhabited by players during games.
Leave it to Ben McDonald, the flame-throwing Louisianan who was renowned as an excellent outdoorsman, to find the humor in the moment. He perched on the bench at the corner of the dugout with a fishing pole in hand and used the rain delay for some faux fishing (only his was more likely to hook a wayward Coke cup or washed away popcorn container than the gators he used to wrangle near the O's former spring training home at Bobby Maduro Stadium in Miami). If anyone can come up with a copy of that iconic photo, leave a link in the comments section and I'll gladly post it with this entry.
Similar storms have dumped buckets at Camden Yards in the ensuring years, including a memorable storm on Aug. 30, 2009 when the Cleveland Indians were in town. Both dugouts became quagmires of murky water, only the O's first base home eventually receded while the Tribe's quarters along third base did not. Umpires finally agreed to let the Indians stop the game, if necessary, so they could utilize the umpire's tunnel behind home plate since they couldn't access their clubhouse because of the thigh-deep water.