OMAHA, Neb. – The busiest guy at the College World Series Monday isn’t in the lineup. He won’t hit, pitch or go in to play shortstop. He’s sitting in a room near the third base dugout – the bunker, they call it – peering at monitors.
Imagine a radar specialist intent on a screen, on the lookout for incoming hostile bogeys.
“Pretty much accurate,” Marty McKewon is saying. He’s the official meterologist for the College World Series, and he’s already having a trying week. There was a 2-hour and 49-minute delay Sunday during the Arkansas-Texas game. Oregon State and Washington were called off the field at 3:16 p.m. CT Monday in the top of the sixth inning, and didn’t get back until 7:47.
McKewon saw it coming. Part of his job is to issue a forecast each morning, to let CWS officials know what might be store. So how’d he do Monday?
“It was, fortunately, accurate. I said it was highly likely we’d have an interruption in game one, which could make it challenging to complete game two. Today was an easier day in terms of forecasting. Yesterday was a more challenging day, because no one expected the thunderstorm activity in Omaha around noon.”
But rain is not the main enemy. That can be played through. Lightning is the villain. The College World Series uses a sensor system, with second base at TD Ameritrade Park as its coordinates, that shows lightning in the area. Anything within an eight-mile radius of the ballpark, play must stop. One strike, and they’re out. The clock starts, and forget about taking the field until there have been 30 lightning-free minutes. Every strike resets the clock.
And. So. It. Goes. No wonder some of the fans hunkered down for hours in the protected sections of the grandstands start to feel as if they’ll need to be scraped off their seats.
McKewon is the focal point for information. He’s the lightning police. He’s the party pooper who gets the game stopped, and keeps it stopped. So what should we do, blame the messenger?
“I think that comes with the territory for meterologists,” he says. “We get blamed when we we’re wrong. It’s human nature. When we’re right, it’s about time. You hear being a meteorologist is the only job you can be wrong half the time and still be employed. We’d better be right more than half the time with everything that is available today. It should be closer to 70 or 75 percent.”
“I actually love baseball so I do enjoy watching the games, but when the weather’s active, that comes first. It’s nice the bunker is right there by the third base dugout. But when we’re waiting for the storm to move in, I’ll be in and out, sometimes actually looking at the sky. I can get a better feel for how volatile the atmosphere might be, if the storms are really exploding or if they’re weakening.”
All those high-tech do-dads, and he still relies on two eyes, the old-fashioned way?
“There’s still something to be said for observation.”
His day job is with Indji Systems, an Australian company that monitors weather for renewable energy. He is here in a cap like a lot of the crowd, but neither Oregon State nor Washington is on the front. It's his wife’s insurance company. You wouldn’t notice him in a crowd of three. But make no mistake, he is the one they’re all listening to Monday.
So the hours go by, and a game that started at 1 o’clock is still going at 8. But what about the rest of the week? Marty McKewon almost grimaces with the bad news. He’s like a doctor telling you, yeah, that gall bladder is going to have to come out. Sorry.
“The last two days, I’ve been sharing the message that we’re in a weather pattern that’s going to persist here for the next several days at least, that is going to be causing more storm episodes. I’ve been as gently as I can saying these could be long days. The schedule could be challenged.”
That means . . . more rain, more lightning strikes, more hours to kill?
“You’ll see a lot of me the next few days. Hopefully not the next 10 days.”
Let’s try not to blame him.