- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2017

By the time the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves began a baseball game Thursday, fans inside Nationals Park had already seen most of an entertaining Philadelphia Phillies-Pittsburgh Pirates game, if they were paying attention, being broadcast on the Jumbotron.

Depending where they were sitting, they saw an illegal fireworks show happening near the ballpark, too.

On an essentially clear July night, fans who stayed watched a non-wet tarp cover the field and then the same tarp taken off, still just as dry.

But finally — finally — after a mostly rainless rain delay of three hours and five minutes, the Nationals and the Braves played, resulting in a 5-2 Nationals loss.

When the game started, most of the announced attendance of 22,724 were long gone.

The umpires, both sides, you don’t wanna waste pitchers, you hate to have the fans wait around as much as we hate to wait around, but we were told that there was a pretty severe storm coming,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “But weathermen, as you know, have been wrong before, and it’s hard to predict weather so that’s what we were told.”

Originally slated for a 7:05 p.m. start, the forecast predicted rain, but the tarp didn’t cover the diamond until an hour into the delay.

There were dark clouds on the horizon and a light sprinkle came down around 9 p.m., but the game would have been playable.

Often kept in the dark, it wasn’t until 9:35 p.m. when the Nationals released a statement that said: “It is our sincere hope that we will be able to play tonight’s game. The weather system that we have been monitoring is beginning to reach the ballpark and should pass through shortly. It is our hope that once it moves out we will be able to play shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

In the bottom of the second inning — 10:34 p.m. — the Nationals announced anyone who left the ballpark and had a ticket to the game would be allowed back in.

And as another attempted sweetener, fans in the stands had free access to water, soda and ice cream. The announcement came immediately after the notice that the last Greenbelt Metro train left at 11:02 p.m.

Those who did stick around often listed one of two reasons for staying: the love of baseball, or they were from out of town and had nothing else to do.

“We debated going back to the hotel, but then if they play the game, we’re going to be disappointed,” said 59-year-old Bob Kinghorn, who visiting D.C. from Idaho. “We came all the way to watch the game. Why not hang out and see what happens?”

Added 25-year-old Shelby Ashley: “We’re out of town (from Texas) and we spent a lot of money on tickets.”

Brad Hartland, 31, voiced his frustration.

“The forecast said the rain is going to hit D.C. at 8:30 p.m. or whatever,” he said. “That’s an hour and a half of game you can play. You can maybe get to the fifth inning by then. If it doesn’t rain then great, you can keep playing. If it does rain, you can call it.”

But Hartland did give credit to the Nationals, saying he had been to rain delays before, but had never seen free concessions given out during them. Hartland even stayed at the game by himself after the friend that went with him decided to leave.

“You’re here, and you want to see the game,” Hartland said.

The Nationals went through all the tropes of a regular season loss. Starter Gio Gonzalez was fine, but let up three runs, including a home-run to Kurt Suzuki in the sixth inning that broke a 2-2 tie. Reliever Sammy Solis surrendered two more runs in the seventh to make it 5-2.

Gonzalez was less than pleased about having to wait.

“We tried to make jokes out of the 15-minute rain delay,” Gonzalez said, referring to the brief drizzle around 9 p.m., “A seven o’clock game, for 15 minutes of rain, that’s unbelievable. I’m talking to you at 1:30 in the morning right now. 15-minute delay.”

Fittingly, the official time of the game was 3:10, just five minutes longer than the delay.

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