To say that Thursday night’s game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves was weird would be doing it a disservice. The game, played at Nationals Park, was fine. But that’s only after it got started, because the weirdness of this game came solely from a rain delay.
Calling it a rain delay seems wrong, because for the majority of the three hour and five minute delay, no rain fell. And when water did finally fall from the sky, it was a light drizzle that quickly left.
At the outset, nothing seemed too strange. The Nats-Braves game was delayed at 6:40 p.m. ET, even though no rain was falling and the tarp was off. (“Approaching weather” was the given reason.) So it was probably going to be a short delay, right? But as the night progressed, the game kept on not being played, and rain continued to not fall. And the Nationals continued to withhold information, waiting nearly three hours after the initial delay announcement to give any updates.
At about 8:20 p.m., 74 minutes into the rain delay, the grounds crew finally put the tarp on. At 9:08 p.m., 123 minutes into the delay, a light drizzle fell. It was over within minutes, and that was the only weather that happened during either the rain delay or the game.
At 9:35 p.m., the Nats put this message up on the scoreboard:
Of course, the “rain” had already come and gone, and the game would start 35 minutes later at 10:10 p.m. According to the Washington Post, a Nationals employee had to sing the national anthem because the young woman who was supposed to sing it at 7 p.m. had to leave.
For their part, the teams seemed to roll with the punches. Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte couldn’t believe what was happening.
This No-Rain delay is something i've never seen before!!
— Ender Inciarte (@enderinciartem) July 7, 2017
Inciarte seemed game to have a little fun, but unfortunately doing a slip-n-slide on the tarp was not an option.
Nats starter Gio Gonzalez told the Washington Post that his teammates tried to find the humor in it.
“We tried to make jokes out of the 15-minute rain delay,” starter Gio Gonzalez, who allowed three runs in six innings and took the loss, said afterward. “A seven o’clock game, for 15 minutes of rain, that’s unbelievable.”
Nats GM Mike Rizzo was already sensing the oncoming criticisms when he released this statement at 11 p.m., via the Washington Post.
“We monitor the weather very closely via a weather service, along with Major League Baseball. Our decisions on any weather-related issues are made in conjunction with Major League Baseball, opposing teams, umpires, and the players union. Tonight was tough. We could see weather heading our way and wanted to be proactive, but the timing on its arrival kept shifting. We hate when this happens — it’s such a tough spot to be in. Do you start play or not? There are so many factors to consider, including how a midgame delay would impact our players. We know the fans came to see a game, and we hate that we made them wait. We appreciate everyone’s patience tonight.”
Everything Rizzo said is defensible, even though it’s pretty ridiculous to postpone a 7 p.m. game because rain is expected at 9 p.m. Weather prediction is not easy, and there are a lot of implications to starting a game when severe weather is expected. When a game is stopped midway through due to weather, the starting pitcher is usually unable to return and the bullpen gets taxed. (And considering the state of the Nationals bullpen, it’s easy to see why they wanted to avoid that.)
But the indefensible thing about this situation is the communication and treatment of the fans. Forgetting for a moment that the rain that fell is the kind of rain that most teams play through, the Nationals didn’t communicate with their fans until nearly three hours after their initial rain delay announcement at 6:40 p.m.. Between official announcements to the fans, 175 minutes passed. And of those 175 minutes, the vast majority of them were rain-free. When the game finally started at 10:10 p.m., most of the crowd had left.
The Nationals did appear to try and make up for it. They said they’d honor tickets from fans who had left but wanted to return.
Fans with tickets to tonight's game are welcome to re-enter the ballpark and watch the game.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 7, 2017
And they gave out free food to everyone who had stayed.
— Aaron Oster (@TheAOster) July 7, 2017
And all that’s great. But it ignores everyone who came expecting to see a baseball game but had to leave because they have lives. (The Metro closes at 11:30 p.m. in DC, well before the delayed game ended.) The Nationals did what they thought was best for the teams and the players on Thursday night. But they seemingly forgot about the fans. Fans know that rain delays are a possibility if they go see a baseball game in an open-air stadium, but a three-hour delay for 15 minutes of playable drizzle is way, way beyond a regular rain delay.
If the Nationals think a three-hour no-rain rain delay is necessary, then OK, but they need to recognize what that costs fans and try to make up for it. Free ice cream is great, but it doesn’t help the people who had to leave. Letting them exchange their ticket for a different game is a great way to say “I’m sorry!” to the fans who couldn’t see the game due the the Nats’ overabundance of caution.
At this point, the Nats haven’t done that. What they have done is tweet out this statement, which is very close to the statement that Rizzo released on Thursday night.
A message from the Washington Nationals: pic.twitter.com/xsXOBvTDyJ
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 7, 2017
The statement doesn’t mention anything about a ticket exchange or make-up gift for those who had to endure Thursday’s rain delay. Instead, the Nationals “understand” that people had to leave before the game started, almost forgiving the fans for something the Nationals themselves had done.
It’s not the best look. So we’ll just have to wait and see if this rain delay has any consequences — from MLB, or from the Nationals’ own fans.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –