For three hours and five minutes Thursday night, the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, fans and assorted media waited. They waited through what was officially called a rain delay, a misnomer of biblical proportions for what could best be described as an antediluvian rain delay — one endured long before any signs of flooding, or even heavy rain. It did drizzle for a few minutes, though.
At about 6:40 p.m. Thursday, under cloudy skies, the Nationals announced they would delay the start of their series opener against the Braves. “Approaching weather” was the reason, and indeed most local forecasts suggested rain would be moving into the area some time after 8 p.m. So the game did not start on time. It did not start until 10:10, a 3:05 rain delay that included about 30 minutes of drizzling rain, if that, and sent many at Nationals Park into a fit of perplexed frustration before the Braves’ eventual 5-2 win.
In a somewhat unorthodox move for a game being delayed by “approaching weather,” as this one was, the Nationals grounds crew did not put the tarp on the field after announcing the delay. They did not need to; an hour into the rain delay, that approaching weather had not hit.
At 8:19, the approach seemed imminent. The grounds crew pulled the tarp onto the field. If the rain had hit right then, which would have been about four or five innings into an average game, one could see the argument for waiting. Starting and stopping probably would have burned both team’s starting pitchers after four innings. Neither side would have been happy.
“We were told that bad weather was coming. The umpires, both sides, you don’t wanna waste pitchers,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “You hate to have the fans wait around as much as we hate to wait around, but we were told that there was a pretty severe storm coming. But the weatherman, as you know, has been wrong before.”
If that was the Nationals’ thinking, they did not share it with fans, all of whom were perfectly dry as the clock crept toward 9. Most of the fans cleared out when the tarp went on, considering that as much of an update as they would need.
Braves players filtered out into their dugout at that time. At one point, leadoff man Ender Inciarte put on his helmet as if to hit. Later, when a fan tweeted at him that he should start a slip-n-slide on the tarp, Inciarte tweeted back “Can’t. The tarp is dry.”
This No-Rain delay is something i've never seen before!!
— Ender Inciarte (@enderinciartem) July 7, 2017
At 9:08 p.m., 2:03 into the delay, the much-discussed weather finally arrived. That approaching weather amounted to a light drizzle, the kind of rain teams often play through. The tarp stayed on.
So the weather hit (grazed, really), at which point remaining fans headed to the concourses, less crowded than usual. At 9:35 p.m. — 2 1/2 hours into the delay — a message popped up on the scoreboard, which had previously been showing the Pirates and Phillies game, which had reached the seventh inning just after 9 o’clock, thereby exacerbating the absurdity of the evening’s delay.
That message on the scoreboard:
“It is our sincere hope that we will be able to play tonight’s game. The weather system we have been monitoring is beginning to reach the ballpark, and should pass through shortly. It is our hope that once it moves out we will be able to play. Thank you for your patience.”
Given the rumblings among fans in the stands, audible from a quick walk around the concourse, the presumption that there was patience was about as accurate as the presumption that it would rain early enough to warrant a delay. But fans did stay, and the front apparently moved through with incredible speed. The tarp came off the field four minutes after that announcement. About five minutes later, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy emerged to stretch.
Soon after, the team announced that the game would begin at 10:10 p.m., which it did. A Nationals employee sang the national anthem, as the young woman who had practiced a beautiful rendition a few hours before the game was no longer there to sing it.
Then, at 10:34 p.m., the Nationals’ official Twitter account tweeted the following:
Fans with tickets to tonight's game are welcome to re-enter the ballpark and watch the game.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 7, 2017
It did not go over well. What did go over well was the announcement soon after that all fans who stayed would be given free soda, water, and ice cream, an announcement that sent hundreds of kids sprinting up the stairs toward the concession stands.
So the game played on, and at around 11 p.m., the team issued the following statement from General Manager Mike Rizzo:
“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.”
Meteorologists make mistakes. Those who base decisions off forecasts, therefore, make them too. Many mistakes were made Thursday night, and the Nationals and Braves — and those who hung around in the stands at Nats Park — endured a three-hour rain delay that included very little rain.
“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.”