Back home, the fields at the McLean Little League ballpark, a community staple and summer sanctuary, are a dramatically different sight. They were destroyed by a flash flood that swept through the area on July 8, rendering them unplayable at the peak of the all-star season.
“It looked like a scene in Apocalypse Now,” said Andy Bradley, who runs a baseball camp through the league and watched as his car filled with water and floated atop another car in the parking lot. “It was unbelievable and just so sad. I mean it was the most surreal, speechless moment that I’ve experienced from a weather or natural disaster standpoint. I just couldn’t believe what I was watching and what ended up coming about.”
The result was the worst flooding McLean Little League has experienced in the past 30 years, with the water cresting at around six feet on one of the four fields. The storm took out several hundred feet of fence, a cinder-block dugout and seven pitching machines. Debris was strewn in the batting cage netting and fences, and water washed out the gravel on the walkways. After the storm, the scene looked post-apocalyptic.
The league’s board of directors estimated the repairs would cost up to $75,000 and started a GoFundMe to engage the community’s charitable efforts, which one board member said has already begun. Bradley’s camp, in its fifth year, was cut short, while the baseball and softball all-star teams have been impacted at the most critical points in their seasons.
“None of us can practice at the Little League fields right now,” said Jamie Loving, the coach of the softball team competing in the regional tournament this week. “That obviously is bad, but on the good side, the other local leagues around us have all been exceedingly generous in volunteering their fields. If we need any equipment, they’ve offered that. They’ve been terrific on that front.”
Loving’s team practiced on the softball fields at McLean High School and Linway Terrace Park between their state and regional tournament appearances, but he said he is eager to get back to the fields where he has coached for nearly 30 years. Loving, also a longtime board member, said the league is determined to have the park ready for the start of the fall season.
Denis Griffin, who manages the complex, agreed the goal is to have the site operational by Labor Day, and said that a lot of progress has already been made. He added that most of the work will be contracted out to professional landscaping and construction companies. Griffin saw the timing of the storm as a positive point since the league hosts few games in the summer.
“The fortunate thing for us is this didn’t happen during the playing season,” Griffin said. “We did have one game scheduled for Tuesday, [July 9] but that got moved. That was an all-star district final [for baseball], but we’re not under this tremendous pressure to have the fields done by next week so they can play. It’s kind of an off period for us right now.”
McLean Little League is in a susceptible spot, sitting in a flood plain adjacent to Pimmit Run stream. Its location means the fields experience higher-than-normal levels of flooding during periods of heavy rain. Griffin said flooding has been “part of the deal” since the fields were constructed in the late 1950s.
Griffin typically prepares for the rains as best as possible by storing the pitching machines and securing the dumpsters, but the recent storm came on too fast. The pitching machines were destroyed and the dumpsters ended up a mile or two down the street.
“I don't ever see it repeating to that degree,” Griffin said. “It was just an incredible amount of rain. We've had very bad storms in the seven years I've been here, but never ever got anything close to that amount of rain and damage.”
Loving said his 16-year-old daughter, a former little league player, was “pretty shocked when she saw the Field 3 fence basically at a 45 degree angle and the Field 4 fence pretty much gone” for the first time on Sunday.
Griffin said he has seen many community members stop by to check out the damage.
“A lot of people grew up here and they want to come out and look at it,” Griffin said. “A lot of people are just so sad. I've seen people close to tears just looking at it, but the good thing was nobody was hurt and we can rebuild, and we're getting the community support. That’s a good thing.”
Loving, now preparing for a regional championship, echoed the sentiment.
“The worst of things often bring out the best of things, right?”
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