PHILADELPHIA — Whatever you do, whether you play cards or watch a movie or stare at your iPhone for hours on end, don’t go near the food. That’s the number one rule. That’s what the Nationals tell themselves during rain delays.
“My biggest thing is to stay out of the kitchen,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said on Monday at Citizens Bank Park while, at that same moment, the grounds crew was trying to dry a soaked infield with blowtorches. “Because you can overeat for sure.”
The Nationals have experienced a lot of rain delays lately. A lot of waiting around. A lot of chances to raid the refrigerator and eat until play starts again. Since last Friday, the Nationals have sat through just under 11 hours of rain delays and played a little more than six hours of baseball. Friday’s game was delayed, played for 23 minutes, and eventually rained out. The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs was delayed by two hours by rain. The second was delayed by rain for 89 minutes, with just six outs to go, and didn’t end until 1:42 a.m. Sunday’s game was delayed three hours and postponed without the players ever taking the field.
Then Monday’s game was rained out, setting up a Tuesday doubleheader with the Phillies, once five blowtorches were not enough to fix an infield that was quite literally hung out to dry over the weekend. There was not a delay before that contest was postponed, but there didn’t need to be. The Nationals have already gotten plenty used to those this September, with their season inching closer to a playoff-less finish, as the rain just won’t leave them alone.
And yet, it hasn’t made passing the time any easier.
“You do absolutely anything that works,” said Nationals first baseman Mark Reynolds. “Watch Netflix, play cards, anything. Just whatever will keep you sane.”
Reynolds, a 12-year veteran, has never seen such a rainy stretch in his career. He is filling these delays with Two-Man Pluck, a trick-taking card game like Hearts or Spades that usually includes four players. But Reynolds learned the two-player version as a member of the Colorado Rockies last season and has roped in veteran reliever Greg Holland. They play in the afternoon before first pitch, but more often when the weather keeps everyone cramped in the clubhouse.
That is a rain delay tactic Martinez is used to seeing. In his playing days, which stretched from 1986 to 2001, Martinez and his teammates either slept or played cards while waiting for storms to pass. There were no iPhones. No Netflix. No flat-screen televisions to gather around. There was also never this much bad weather in one week, except maybe that one time in the ’90s when rain flooded the Wrigley Field clubhouse and players had to wade through ankle-high water to get to their lockers.
Now a manager, Martinez keeps an eye on what his players do during delays. He likes, if nothing else, that they are bonding at an otherwise dreary point of the season. He is encouraged when a few of his guys choose to lift weights, run or hit the batting cage during the long breaks. He is also encouraged by how his team has stayed ready to compete, such as how Holland put a heat pack on his arm during that 89-minute delay on Saturday night, did his normal warm-up routine in the damp bullpen, and notched his second save of the season just before 2 a.m.
“The best way I can describe it is perseverance,” Martinez said Sunday of what it has taken to endure these delays, and that was before his team waited four hours just to be sent home.
Perseverance helped the Nationals sweep Saturday’s doubleheader. It has helped them emerge from weather delays with energy and interest in battling back into games. It has, if only somewhat, helped players and coaches avoid sneaking into the kitchen for a bag of chips or a bowl of cereal or late-night leftovers that no one ever needs. And they may need a bit more of that perseverance on Tuesday.
Monday’s postponement means two games will need to be played at Citizens Banks Park on Tuesday, and again, rain is in the forecast.
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