As severe storms passed through Central Virginia on Friday night, we were on a softball field at Harry G. Daniel Park. The light breeze that preceded the storm felt very nice, after a day of 100-plus degree temperatures. The problem is that the light breeze led to very dangerous winds that blew from first base to third base. We were in the bottom half of the last inning, and the umpire chose not to call the game in the top half of the inning. Fans in the stands had looked on smart phones to see a severe thunderstorm rapidly approaching, and had decided to move to their vehicles. What made things even worse was that the lights went out at 11 p.m., right at the height of the strongest winds. Imagine blackout conditions due to no lights and a dust storm like I have never experienced to boot. In a matter of minutes, thirty to forty people found themselves in harm’s way.
As we drove away, the dust storm made it nearly impossible to see the gate at the entrance to the softball fields. Once we made it onto White Pine Road, the dust conditions subsided somewhat, but now the problem was driving through tall trees that were being blown hard. My son was behind us and had to deal with a downed tree. People were out of their vehicles, attempting to move the tree, when my son suggested that people just drive around it, and that is just what he did. Though the winds remained strong all the way home, we were able to make it without further incident.
Just moments before the winds began to force-feed me dust while coaching third base, I had talked with the third baseman from the other team who stated that he had ridden his motorcycle to the game. In the process of attempting to account for everyone after we were safely home, there were still a couple of people that I had not heard about, the third baseman being one of them. I am not trying to over dramatize this story, but things got really bad, very quickly.
What could have prevented this? You could see lightning off in the distance, but no one really gave it a thought. When the winds picked up and you could not see to play, the umpire could have called the game right then. The 11 p.m. automatic shutting off of the lights exacerbated the problem, making a truly bad thing worse. Everyone should have heeded the info obtained from the smart phones. I am reminded of the sirens going off while we were at a restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama, and no one took action, including me. We used to say that many decisions would make you a hero or a zero. Those of us on that field last week made a bad call and therefore had to deal with a dangerous drive home. It’s the kind of thing that memories are made from, but my wife’s words were resounding, “I thought that we were going to die tonight.”
It is 8:45 a.m., the day after, and I just got word that the third baseman made it home.