SportPlex, local teams move on after Arlene

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Rain, Rain, go away, come again some other day…preferably, say, February, since basketball games will be played as scheduled anyway.

That’s been the mantra for Demopolis’s Dixie Youth, Babe Ruth, and American Legion teams the last several weeks as a series of thunderstorms, afternoon showers, and now tropical depression Arlene have played havoc with teams’ scheduling and preparation. Even if Arlene wasn’t the major storm many were predicting when it first formed, the surrounding showers washed out a full night of action Thursday for Dixie Youth softball and Babe Ruth baseball, and weekend games for both the Junior and Senior West Alabama American Legion squads.

“Yeah, rain happens,” says a frustrated Rob Pearson, Commissioner of the Babe Ruth League, who “built some padding” into the league’s schedule for rain-outs but says the amount of rain in the last few weeks will still likely force the cancellation of last Thursday’s games.

“Our main concern,” he says, “is that our players pay $65 a piece to compete in our league and we want to give them their money’s worth. Shortening the season is the last thing we want to do, but we may have to. I regret having to do that, but I believe we have still provided our players with a good league.”

If the skies will stay clear, Pearson says, a compressed schedule will still enable the Babe Ruth League to play but all but the June 9 games. Still, even that presents its own problems when it comes to preserving the League’s young arms.

“We’ll get a few more games in this week and next week. The only concern is the pitching,” he says. “We may look at our pitching rules so that everybody has enough pitching to get through the week.”

Further hindering Pearson’s efforts is that Field 2 and Webb Field, two of the SportPlex’s regulation-size fields and the two used in Babe Ruth play, can waterlog more quickly than some of the fields on higher ground.

“You want to play, but our fields don’t drain as well as the Dixie Youth fields higher up on the hill,” he says. “It’s nobody’s fault, of course. It’s just something we have to deal with.”

Down at the SportPlex, dealing with the rain itself is the job of the SportPlex crew and Mark Pettus of the Demopolis Parks and Recreation department. Pettus says that even in the case of a major downpour like Arlene, there’s precious little the SportPlex can do to prepare the fields for a specific storm.

“Lots of times, unless it’s a big event with commitments from people coming in from out of town, we cannot do a whole lot with the fields,” he says. “We can put out tarps, but it’s hit-and-miss. You can put in a lot of labor and a lot of dollars and then the storm blows the other way.”

The SportPlex’s approach instead, he says, is to have the fields ready to bounce back from a storm whenever it happens or however strong it might be.

“The best thing is to keep the fields maintained,” he says. “With the fields, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If they’re in good shape when the rain hits–if we’ve gotten the footprints out where rain collects, the lips of the field where rain collects–they’ll dry out without too much problem.”

Of course, not everyone sees the rain as an issue. Rachel King, acting President of the Dixie Youth softball leagues, says that while some of her leagues’ games have been cancelled, the rain is something she expects and isn’t about to lose sleep over.

“The rain wasn’t a big deal,” she says. “If you’re going to play outdoors, you’d better get used to rain or snow or whatever.”

Pettus says that even in the face of “whatever”–even in the face of Arlene–good maintenance means that games can be back on schedule the very next day.

“We’ll pray for sunshine and turn the fields over,” he says. “Get them exposed to the wind, air, the sun…we’ll dry them out pretty quick.”