Mother Nature

Sports are this pure form of competition and entertainment.  Nothing should ever get in the way of the beauty of sports.  Somebody forgot to give that message to Mother Nature.  Some of my most memorable times in sports involved the wrath of that cruel, old woman.

I think it was my fourth year at Doane College.  I just say that because I remember some of the players and it fits that time frame.  We had a good team at Doane, the best in the four years I had been a college coach.

Many times, the women played in front of small crowds.  A few coaches would put their heads together to find a way of playing in front of bigger crowds.  One way to do that was to play a game in the home town of one of the players.

Peru State College had a pretty good basketball team back then.  I didn’t think they were as good as my Doane team, but they could be competitive.  The Peru coach proposed playing a game at Plattsmouth, the home town of one of his seniors.  I liked the idea, mostly because I really didn’t like playing in the Peru gym.

As we drove into Plattsmouth, the snow began falling lightly.  I wasn’t real worried.  In three hours, we’d be on our way home and the forecast was only for an inch or two of the frozen, white stuff.

I am ashamed to admit this, but in pre-game warm-ups, I mentioned the weight of one of the Peru players.  I’m wasn’t very high in my assessment of her playing ability.  I should have known the basketball Gods would get me.

Our offense, averaging almost 80 points per game, was as cold as the weather.  The game stayed reasonably close, only because Peru just wasn’t a great team.  However, Peru led from start to finish.  They led by 10 points in the final seconds when the coach put in the overweight player.  She immediately got the ball and threw up a last second shot from half court that found nothing but the net.  I never made fun of a player’s weight again.

The basketball God wasn’t finished with me.  As we were ready to leave, I was informed the roads leading out of Plattsmouth were blocked by snow.  We would have to spend the night in town.  I checked around for a hotel or motel.  The only one I could find with any vacancy was a motor lodge called The Rock.

I could see why it had a vacancy.  The players immediately nicknamed it the Roach Motel.  The walls were thin and the beds squeaky.  I was mad enough at my players for the way they played, but now I had to listen to them giggle through the paper-thin walls half the night.

I went to the front desk to get an 8 am wake-up call.  The guy at the front desk was twice as heavy as the Peru player.  His t-shirt strained from his big beer belly.  Grease stains were all over the shirt.  When I asked for a wake-up call, he handed me a wind-up alarm clock and announced, “I don’t get up that damned early on Sunday.”

The clock was about the only thing that worked at The Rock.  By 9 am, the roads had been cleared and we were on our way home from Plattsmouth.  It was the only time all year we failed to score at least 50 points.

Rain delays are a part of major league baseball.  Way back in the late 1980’s, I joined a baseball trip that flew to Boston for a game, hoped on a bus to New York for two games and finally to Philadelphia for a game at the old Veterans Stadium.

The game at Fenway Park was played in a steady drizzle, but the game was completed without a delay.  The next night, we were in the old Shea Stadium watching the Mets play the Cubs.  The game made it to the fifth inning before a thunderstorm ended the contest early.   I did get a chance to see the great Dwight Gooden shut out the Cubs, even if it was in a shortened game.

The Yankees and Texas Rangers had been rained out, so our group got to take in a double header when we were only scheduled to see one game.  I was in heaven.  That’s when the heavens opened up and caused the first of three rain delays.

Finally, the bus and almost all our group headed back to the hotel at 11 pm.  My friend, Dan, a father and his 12-year old son and an old lady decided to stick it out.  The final pitch in the Yankee sweep of the Rangers was thrown sometime after 2 am.

Just outside the stadium in the Bronx was a subway station.  We had decided to try to find our way back to our hotel in the theater district by way of public transportation.  The game might not have been that memorable, but that journey certainly turned out to be something I won’t forget.

A lot of Yankee fans were on the subway.  I sat next to an older guy and he like to tell stories.  He told me he had been at the Polo Ground in the playoff game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The game was played in 1951.  Bobby Thompson’s home run was the “Shot Heard Around the World.”  You remember, “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!”

I hated to see him get off.  I was mesmerized by his baseball stories.  He told me he had been in Yankee Stadium for Don Larson’s perfect game in the fifth contest of the 1956 World Series.  Before he left, he gave us perfect directions on what trains to take to get us close to the hotel.  At 3 am, even the ladies of the evening were bored with us.

Thanks to Mother Nature, I’ll never forget that night and the old guy full of great baseball stories.

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