OMAHA—Asking “What do you think about the weather?” is an innocent enough question to make small talk with the person standing next to you while riding upstairs in a crowded elevator.
Of course, when that person is Dennis Poppe, vice president for NCAA Division I football and baseball, you get a more in depth response than, “Looks like we’re in for some rain.”
When Poppe was asked about the weather about a half hour before Monday’s North Carolina-Texas game at TD Ameritrade Park, he reached into his pocket and produced a colorful map. It was a visual representation that boils down to this — severe weather is forecast Monday evening within an hour after the first pitch for the Vanderbilt-Florida game.
“Right now our plans are that we can try to get two or three innings in,” said Poppe, “but a lot of that is going to depend on how long we think it’s going to last. If it’s going to last three hours, then I might think about other things. But normally it doesn’t. It lasts 20 or 30 minutes.”
Added Poppe: “We have plans. When I say plans I can’t give you A, B, C, D. We wait until the thing happens and then assess the situation. The main thing is you don’t want to ruin a pitcher and you don’t want to impact a game. You want to make sure if you stop a game you can do it at the end of an inning or at least in the middle of the inning. Sometimes you can’t. Whenever lightning strikes (within six miles), we’ve got to stop it.
Severe weather is nothing new at the College World Series. In fact, last year’s Series included a six-hour rain delay. Nearby lightning strikes also are common and necessitate pulling players from the field as a safety precaution for them and fans.
“We’re not going to endanger anybody,” said Poppe. “First of all the players. If we get a lightning strike inside of six miles, we’re stopping. I can’t play for 30 minutes. That’s our policy. I have a system now that tells me each time I get another strike. I don’t have to guess. And we go back to 30.”
The forecast last night was calling for “strong thunderstorms” that may produce “large hail.”
Poppe has been overseeing this event for 25 years, but, like everything else this year, he doesn’t know exactly what to expect with this new venue.
“I’m sensitive to the fact that after spending 24 years at Rosenblatt Stadium, I’m almost a weatherman there,” said Poppe. “I can read it by looking as opposed to just looking at the radar. I have a feel for Omaha, like, ‘Nah, it’s not going to hit us.’
“It’s going to be new down here, but I’m very impressed with the groundskeeper here (Dan Blank). He’s got a feel for it. He’s got a very calm demeanor.”
The North Carolina-Texas elimination game was played under cloudy skies with the sun attempting to peak out here and there. The wind was blowing in from center field. And, for the time being, the focus is where it should be, on the field.
“I’ve never been in this location,” said Poppe. “Even though it’s only three miles away (from Rosenblatt), we’re at river bottom. Weather patterns work different. Wind patterns work different. And all that.
“I’m learning how to live in this house like you guys are. I’m trying to touch and feel my way through it.”