Weather or not

By Bill Felber

This column begins on a steamy, wet June Sunday in 1984. I was coaching the Manhattan junior American Legion baseball team, and we were scheduled to play a doubleheader against Blue Valley of suburban Kansas City on the blue diamond at CiCo Park.

The only problem was the weather. It had rained fairly heavily overnight, and may have still been raining when I called my opposite number in Stilwell to advise him of the conditions. This must have been no later than 8 or 8:30 in the morning because of course if we were scheduled to play at noon he had to notify his players (and their parents) to get in their cars and make the two-hour drive early enough to permit them to actually get here.

I didn’t know whether the rain would stop, and I did know the field conditions: they were unplayable. The infield was a mudhole and there was standing water 6 inches deep at low spots in the outfield.

But I knew that my kids and their parents — also known as the grounds crew — wanted to play. In 1984, we were the defending state champs, we had spent the first month or so of the season beating up on lesser competition, and we had a rivalry of sorts going with Blue Valley, which was a Kansas City area power. Blue Valley’s star player was Victor Rojas, son of former Royals star Cookie Rojas, who would play in college and become what he is today, play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

I hardly had to round up parents; they more or less gathered at the field to siphon, drain, push, squeegee and otherwise negotiate as much water off the infield as possible. The message they gave to me was a simple one: Call Blue Valley and get them to come over here… by any means necessary.

So that’s what I did. The Blue Valley team caravanned to a field that bore some resemblance to the Okefenokee, emerged from their cars and wondered what kind of fanatics they were dealing with. For our part, we just kept dumping Diamond Dry on the infield. Then we started dumping it on the outfield. We probably suffocated a few hundred square feet of theretofore healthy outfield grass that day — at least we did enough damage to call down a very young parks and rec department employee named Ron Fehr on my case. I think we started play an hour or two late. But we did play. . . and we won both games.

The episode returned to my memory this week as I contemplated the cancellation of a high school athletic competition due to weather. The indictable weather was the combination rain and snow storm scheduled to arrive Wednesday, and the forecasts proved sufficiently dire that the event was cancelled early Tuesday evening — a time of brilliantly sunny skies when nothing whatsoever had yet happened on the weather front.

We seem far more sensitive today than we used to be not merely to weather but also to the forecast of weather developing. School is the primary focal point for this because of the prevalence of school activities, but it is not the only one. In the past few months, we have seen school, church, organization and club events cancelled because conditions were expected to be unfavorable, without waiting to see whether they actually turned out to be unfavorable. Let the weatherman forecast 2 inches of rain or 4 inches of snow tomorrow and our world spins out of control tonight.

I’m not suggesting that forecasters don’t know what they’re doing. I totally buy into the concept that, while still imperfect, forecasting is substantially more precise and accurate today than it was in the mid 1980s. But storm fronts still do move or stall, too. Beyond that, pretty reliable forecasting tools were also in play a couple decades ago, and they didn’t result in advance behavior modifications. Rather, we did the logical thing: we watched and waited.

There are, it seems to me, also elements in play that do not relate to weather. One of them is budget. Are events cancelled because the prospect of putting kids on a bus or in a van to travel to an event that might have to be called off by weather would lead to a wasted financial outlay? Perhaps budgets are that tight. When I was running the Legion team, our budget was whatever the parents were willing to pay for.

I confess to also being guilty of over-reacting to forecasts. Written on my office calendar this past week was a notation to the effect that I would be taking a vacation day on Wednesday. I showed up for work instead because the forecasts all but guaranteed that Wednesday would not be a good vacation day. As it turned out, the weather wasn’t great — I’d describe it as cool and windy — but it was “playable.” What I should have done is stick to my plan, work around the elements and find a way to make my original schedule happen. In other words, I should have done what we did on that June day in 1984.

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