D.C. faithful entertained during delay

D.C. faithful entertained during delay

WASHINGTON -- The crowd cheered when Nationals starter Mike O'Connor threw a ball high and outside to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the game's first pitch on Thursday night. They had good reason to yell -- after all, those fans had been waiting quite awhile.

O'Connor's first pitch came at 11:32 p.m. ET after a four-hour, 27-minute rain delay following a violent late-afternoon thunderstorm hit the area around RFK Stadium. The rain hung around for hours -- in fact, the National Weather Service confirmed tornadic activity in Anne Arundel County, and reported that a trained spotter had seen a tornado in Severna Park at about 6:35 p.m. But because the Phillies are in a battle for the National League Wild Card spot and must play in Florida on Friday -- and with the season ending this weekend -- the game needed to take place. The Phillies entered the game 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the National League Wild Card race.

Washington team officials didn't know when the game started what the ticket policy would be for those fans who either left or never showed up. There was likely to be more information on Friday or over the weekend.

In addition, with Major League Baseball pushing to get the game played because of the Phillies' playoff situation, the rule stating that a game can't start after midnight was waived due to extenuating circumstances. The Phillies started a home game at 1:30 a.m. ET in July 1993 against San Diego, the nightcap of a doubleheader that saw the first game delayed three times. That game ended at 4:40 a.m., with closer Mitch Williams getting the game-winning hit.

Most of the handful of fans remaining were Phillies fans. The red T-shirts were everywhere, and it sounded a whole lot like a Philadelphia home game. Those in attendance chanted "Let's go, Phillies" several times during the rain delay, especially when it was raining the hardest.

But since most knew that the game was going to be played, no matter what, there wound up being a lot of laughs during the delay. Washington team president Stan Kasten pulled out an old "Ball Game Today" sign at around 10:30 p.m. and showed it in the pressbox, then displayed it to fans who were sitting nearby.

"Oh, we're going to play tonight," Kasten said.

The Nationals' public relations staff drew a huge laugh in the pressbox at around 10:50 p.m. when they announced "lineup changes." And sure enough, Washington made a bunch of moves, with Alfonso Soriano getting the night off after being in the original lineup for the scheduled 7:05 p.m. start.

The Nationals also tried to have some fun with the fans during the delay. They showed the Mets-Braves game, probably since the Mets are coming to town this weekend. But they switched to the Orioles-Yankees game as Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera took a no-hitter into the ninth before losing it with one out.

There also was some good music. "It's Raining Men" from The Weather Girls and "I Love a Rainy Night" by the late Eddie Rabbitt were played. But the biggest crowd reaction came at around 10:45, when the rain finally slowed and stopped. The tarp came off the field several minutes later, and then came the game.

But on a very strange night, there was still one more odd thing. A cleaning crew went to work on the upper deck -- before the game began.

It was just that kind of night.

Nationals notes: The Nationals have announced that they signed a two-year extension to their player development contract with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League.

"We are excited to extend our working relationship with the Vermont Lake Monsters for two more years," said Kasten. "Our franchise has enjoyed its affiliation with not only the Lake Monsters, but the City of Burlington and the New York-Penn League. With our stated commitment to player development, the future for Vermont and for our entire Minor League system, is bright."

The franchise's 13-year relationship with the town of Burlington -- which began in 1994 (with its entry into the league) and will now extend at least through the 2008 season -- is highlighted by Vermont's 1996 championship.

Among the Nationals' recent prospects to play in Vermont are first baseman Larry Broadway (2002), outfielder Kory Casto (2003), and pitchers Clint Everts (2003), Mike O'Connor (2002) and Chris Schroder (2001).

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.