Man can bend mostthings to his will—the effects of gravity, the caloric properties of beer—buthe has been perennially and comically frustrated by rain. He can't prevent itor control it, and he sure can't enjoy it. To tune in to last week's U.S. Openwas to be reminded of the puniness of his abilities regarding thismeteorological phenomenon. Water stood knee-deep on greens, tides lapped inbunkers, and fairways coursed with class III rapids. Vast engines of sport andcommerce were thrown into disarray as the event was delayed, postponed andrescheduled. How bad was it? Well, weatherman Al Roker was as familiar to golffans as Tiger Woods, put it that way.
It's laughable,the drama of sport dictated by nature, this day and age. Rain is good for manythings—farming and puddle jumping—but it is a known disrupter of commercialbroadcasting. Man may be better able to forecast a storm these days, but he isno closer to guaranteeing a successful picnic, parade or golf tournament thanhe's ever been. The idea that Tiger might be stalking another major during theaudience-deprived hours of Monday morning is the surest evidence of man'simpotence. We have discount dentistry and thin-crust pizza, and we can sendrockets to Mars. And we have to set our plans aside for ... rain?
There's a lot atstake these days, in money and championships, and we're no closer to removingthis one highly aggravating and completely uncontrollable condition than ever.It ought to be humbling, if it wasn't so damn infuriating. And wet.
It's not justgolf we're talking about. As this past week also reminded us, no sport israin-tested as regularly as baseball, the occasional domed stadium aside.Unlike football, which welcomes a battle with the elements as just another testof manhood, baseball pretends to celebrate the best of summer even as it mustendure the worst of it. As Crash Davis himself once said, "Sometimes youwin, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." And of the three outcomes,only one threatens concession sales and traps men under giant tarps.
Last Thursday,working under the same cloud bank as Woods, the Yankees felt obliged to holdtheir fans hostage for more than five hours, refusing to postpone their soddengame with the Nationals until the rain let up. There were scheduling demandsthat made it important to play, but you do not need to be overly cynical tosuspect other motives as well. It is the age-old conundrum: the integrity ofthe sport versus the teeth-gritting ticket rain check.
Just up thesoaked Eastern seaboard, the Red Sox were losing to the Marlins when the gamewas called in the sixth inning, after a 2½-hour delay. In that case Bostonplayers would have preferred a longer delay, grumpily believing they could havecome back to win. Or, better yet, a cancellation before the proceedings began."I don't know if the gate was worth it," sniffed third baseman MikeLowell. In other words sometimes you lose and it rains.
Presumably thefans were more grateful for the early send-off, although the older ones amongthem might remember one of the most epic rain delays ever, at least in thenon-ark division. During the 1975 World Series the Red Sox faithful waited outa three-day storm (though not in Fenway Park) before finally taking on the BigRed Machine in Game 6.
Whereas baseballis merely vulnerable to rain, it is believed that Wimbledon, which began thisweek, actually causes it. The tournament, year in and year out, spans thewettest fortnight on earth, basically a cloud-seeding event with thecomplication of some tennis and the eventual appearance of royalty. Theclimatic pattern was apparent the very first year of the "new" CentreCourt, in 1922, when The New York Times observed that "rain interfered witha good part of the program." And so it has, almost every year since,becoming the most reliable creator of moisture since the last scene ofTitanic.
In 2004 Wimbledonenjoyed all of three rain-free days, which seemed soggy even for Great Britain.The drizzled dreariness is part of the tournament's perverse charm, of course,but even the British had to admit that a match lasting five days (eight raindelays in 2007 stretched Rafael Nadal's match with Robin S√∂derling to 92 hours)was too much to ask of its champagne-swilling, strawberry-eating, pound-paying,garbage-bag-wearing patrons. Short of replacing the Centre Court grass with anexpanse of ShamWow, the proprietors had nothing else to do but spend anestimated $130 million to install a retractable roof, which will likely be infrantic operation this week if weather history holds.
But all thatamounts to is a cleverly engineered umbrella, and in no way does it suggestthat man has somehow solved rain. It will continue to fall, washing out golf,baseball and any tennis not on Centre Court. Picnics, parades—it will fall onthem too. Same as it ever did. Stupid rain.
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We can send rockets to Mars, but have to SET PLANSASIDE for ... rain?
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW