At 7:00pm on Friday the game begins, and at 7:11 the drizzle starts to fall. The first two innings are scoreless, and by the top of the third a solid shower has begun. With several other spectators I retreat to the shelter of a tree on a slope above the third-base line. The visitors take a two-run lead, but the home team comes back to tie it in the fourth. Wild pitches and fielding errors become more frequent as the ball and the grass get slippery. At 7:45 there's a rumble of thunder and the deluge grows more intense.

It's a new experience for me: rainball. Why am I here? Flash back four days. Late Monday afternoon (27 June 2005), the day after Paulette and I arrive in the Amherst area to install our daughter in summer music camp, I take a walk from the motel toward the neighborhood sporting goods store. I'm hoping to learn the schedule for upcoming games in the western Massachusetts area, and also to buy another scorebook. The one I got at the same store precisely a year ago is now almost full.

Along the way I pass Ziomek Field, where in the summer of 2004 I saw a couple of amateur baseball games. Today again I spy young men in uniforms warming up. A spectator tells me that the Amherst boys are preparing to play the American Legion team from Orange, a nearby town. I run to our room, grab pen and old scorebook and a drink and some munchies, and race back to the field.

I've missed the top half of the first inning, but no matter. The weather is hot and humid, and as usual the baseball is good, though the clang of aluminum bats remains jarring to an ear attuned to the crack of wood on horsehide. Amherst takes an early lead and then hammers more nails into the Orange coffin with a big four-run third inning. The official scorekeeper sits on top of a bucket at the third-base side of home plate. Every three innings he climbs the hillside where I'm sitting, smokes a cigarette, and then descends again to his post. The final score: Amherst 10 - Orange 3.

Another game is scheduled for the following afternoon, but rain drenches the entire region and all play is cancelled. The same occurs for the next couple of days, and I'm near to giving up hope. But Friday, 1 July, dawns sunny. The newspaper indicates that East Longmeadow is scheduled to meet Amherst in the evening.

I arrive almost an hour early (am I too eager?) and watch the teams go through their drills. Spiked shoes make twing twing sounds as a player strolls across the aluminum bleachers. A fielder overthrows first during practice; the ball accidentally hits an umpire who has just arrived. The sky is now covered with blue-gray clouds. Where the sun should be there's only an ominous glow.

Thus begins my introduction to the sport of rainball, as humidity condenses into sprinkles which thicken into showers and then a downpour. With the score tied 2-2 after four innings I expect play to stop, but amazingly it continues. Too many games have already been cancelled this season. Both sides want to finish a contest for a change.

I huddle under the tree with my fellow spectators. (Don't worry: it's a small tree, well-shielded against lightning.) Water commences to drip through the leaves after half an hour of steady rain, and I have to keep my scorebook inside a plastic bag to prevent it getting soaked. Cars ssswwish by on the wet street behind the field. Throwing the ball is now so tricky that anyone who reaches first base can steal second with impunity. An Amherst player slides headfirst into a base, then stands up and scoops mud out of his pants.

The home team takes a four-run lead in the fifth inning, and the visiting manager—firmly opposed to a premature end, now that his side is behind—points to a small gap in the clouds and expresses optimism to the umps that the rain is about to stop. His side does score a run in the sixth, but Amherst comes back with six more when it's their turn. An outfielder racing for a fly ball slips and falls. A too-loud-to-ignore thunderclap causes the chief umpire to ask his colleague in the field whether there was any visible lightning. None seen, the game continues.

Finally, just before 9pm, the rain slows and then stops. But it's too late for East Longmeadow: Amherst wins 12-4. Players on both teams form lines and do post-game ritual high-fives with one another as a couple of younger kids race in opposite directions around the muddy basepaths. I gather up my paraphernalia, brush wet twigs and leaves off my shorts, and tiptoe around the puddles on the way back to the motel.

(cf. TricountyLeague (14 Aug 2003), OfficialScorekeeper (3 Jul 2004), ...)

TopicRecreation - TopicPersonalHistory - 2005-07-04

(correlates: SixProjectStages, AntiBumperstickerization, OfficialScorekeeper, ...)