Persistent few see game after long delay
Yankees offer free tickets in exchange for Thursday's ducats
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain couldn't exactly remember the last time he pitched in front of so few fans. Definitely not in the big leagues, that's for sure. Possibly Class A ball, he vaguely recalled.
Thursday's game was scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. ET. It was getaway day for both clubs, with the Nationals heading back to Washington and the Yankees boarding a flight for Miami to begin their respective weekend series. But inclement weather throughout the afternoon in the New York area delayed the first pitch until 6:31 p.m. -- a five-hour, 26-minute rain delay.
Though Major League Baseball does not honor an official record for the longest rain delay in history, there are at least two known longer delays. There was a five-hour, 47-minute delay before the start of a game between the Reds and Brewers on Oct. 3, 1999, and a seven-hour, 23-minute delay prior to a Rangers-White Sox game on Aug. 12, 1990, but that contest was not played.
The game Thursday finally ended at 9:30 p.m. -- eight hours, 25 minutes after it was supposed to have begun. The Yankees were supposed to have landed in Florida sometime during the eighth inning, while the Nationals were likely expecting to be back in their own beds at home.
But at least Washington got something out of the deal: a 3-0 victory.
"It's been a very long day," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "It's definitely a little strange to have three meals before a game even starts. But when you win, it's worthwhile."
If the Yankees had been playing almost any other team, it is likely the delay never would have happened. Since Washington is a National League opponent and is therefore not scheduled to return to Yankee Stadium this season, there was no way to schedule a doubleheader later in the season.
The two clubs' only common off-day is this Monday, but the Yankees will be in the middle of a road trip to Florida and Atlanta that day, making a game in New York a virtual impossibility. So the only thing to do was wait and hope the rain would finally stop.
Throughout the day, the two teams were given potential start times, only to find out the rain was not letting up. Outfielder Johnny Damon said it felt like they were getting ready to play almost every hour throughout the day.
During the rain delay, the Yankee players mostly stayed in the clubhouse and sat around. Infielder Ramiro Pena called the delay "brutal," while reliever Phil Coke said "it was a whole lot of hurry up and wait."
There were other games shown on the clubhouse televisions. Nevertheless, when asked what he did during the delay, Damon paused for a moment to think. "Nothing," he finally responded.
After the marathon day, both starting pitchers discussed the difficulties of having to wait through such a long delay. Chamberlain stressed that, despite the confusion about when the game would finally begin, he never got warmed up too early and said the rain was not why his team lost.
After all, it was the same for both sides.
"It was a long wait," Nationals starter Craig Stammen said. "I didn't know we were going to play. They said we were going to start at 4 o'clock, but I ended up waiting some more. But I guess it started on time for me."
The announced paid attendance at Yankee Stadium for Thursday's day game-turned-night game was 45,143. There were maybe 5,000 people actually in the stands to witness the Nationals' 3-0 win. And considering the inordinate delay to begin the game, even that was impressive.
"I was surprised there were that many fans there," Derek Jeter.
The one who stuck around were given a treat. In the middle of the first inning, the Yankees announced everyone was allowed to move down to the field or main level to watch the rest of the game. Immediately, there was a mass exodus from the upper deck and a stampede of people running to snag prime seats close to the action.
Additionally, all fans with tickets, even those who did not show up at the ballpark, are entitled to a free ticket in the bleachers, grandstand or terrace section to any non-premium game the rest of this season or in 2010.
"It looked like there were 30,000 empty seats," Damon said. "That's 30,000 smart fans who didn't want to wait out a five-hour rain delay and watched it at home."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.