I wrote in our upcoming issue about the recent controversial four-game rainout at Rookie-level Casper, in which the local operators and big league club were at odds over the condition of the playing field after a particularly heavy rain. Ultimately, field managers for Casper and visiting Billings defied local management, and the umpires in the series finale, by refusing to take the field. I was not able to speak with Rockies farm director Marc Gustafson until after the issue went to press and wanted to include his take on the situation in an updated version of the story below.
A stormy stretch put a damper on Rookie-level Casper’s playoff push and highlighted the sometimes differing motivations between minor league operators and their parent clubs.
A four-game homestand against Billings ended with just one inning being played and both team managers—with the support of their respective farm systems—at odds with Casper management on the safety of playing conditions that ultimately led to Mustangs skipper Julio Garcia defying umpires’ calls to play ball by loading his team onto the bus and driving out of town.
“It definitely wasn’t the best weekend we’ve had,” Casper general manager Matt Warneke said.
The series openers were scheduled for a late August Thursday and Friday but were postponed due to a deluge of rain, leading the Ghosts to opt for back-to-back doubleheaders on the following Saturday and Sunday. Warneke said his staff showed up to the park at dawn on Saturday and spent the morning prepping the field. The game was supposed to begin at noon to be followed by a concert, the second half of the doubleheader and then fireworks. But Warneke said neither manager felt the field was playable and the game was postponed until the evening after the concert. While preparations for the evening game were underway—including player introductions and the national anthem—Garcia and Casper manager Tony Diaz met at home plate with the umpire crew. Roughly an hour later the game was called due to a soggy outfield.
Things only worsened on Sunday. A Casper Star Tribune report stated that there was standing water throughout the outfield and a puddle in center field.
“If anybody can’t understand the fact that we are risking someone’s career playing on that field, than that person should not be associated with the game. Period,” Diaz told the Star Tribune.
However Warneke said that umpires gave the go-ahead to play and that the two club managers refused to allow their players to take the field. With 1,500 fans in attendance and the umpires giving a 30-minute notice to play ball, Warneke said that Garcia loaded his team onto the bus and drove away. Warneke then apologized to fans in attendance over the PA system, saying that he was “sick to my stomach” over the managers’ actions.
“I had my staff out here at 6 a.m. everyday (of the weekend) and then watching grown men get on the bus, I was discouraged,” Warneke said in a telephone interview. “When you are left out to dry it is really discouraging. There were 1,500 people in the stands. And that is ultimately why we are here to play the game, for the fans.”
However Garcia had a different take the teams’ priorities.
“We are in player development,” he told the Star Tribune. “Our job is to get these guys in the situations to play, but sometimes you just can’t do it. Things are out of your control and make it impossible for you to go out there and perform.”
Rockies farm director Marc Gustafson said that he was involved in the decision not to take play and that he was advised by several members of the Rockies and Reds staff on hand that the field was not playable.
"There were a lot of details and factors and effort and thought that went into (the decision)," Gustafson said. "All of our coordinators that were there, and who have been around the game and know what is right and wrong, decided that the field wasn’t playable. In the end the worst scenario that could have happened would have been injury.
Gustafson could sympathize with Warneke’s need to get as many dates in as possible, however dealing with drainage issues should be one of the first steps taken to avoid a similar incident. The Rockies do not have a tarp to cover the infield beyond the mound and home plate area, and Gustafson noted that rain has left the field in poor conditions before.
"It doesn’t rain a whole lot up there," Gustafson said. "But when it does rain, we can’t play . . . When you have a short-season club we have to play as many games as possible, but we have to think of the players’ (safety)."
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