By David Stevens
A Clovis Little League baseball manager said he was forced to choose between forfeiting a game and playing in unsafe weather conditions on Friday night in Portales.
Teddy Marez, manager of the 10-12-year-old Zia Astros, said his team was ordered onto the field by tri-county league officials even though lightning was in the area. When Marez refused to allow his team to take the field, the game was forfeited to the Portales Diamondbacks.
But Mike Harris, the tri-county’s district administrator, said the game’s umpire and two district representatives all agreed the playing conditions were safe before Marez was given five minutes for his team to take the field.
“We are extremely conscious of safety,” Harris said. “The guy who called the game is a certified high school umpire and those people know what they’re doing. I think there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, but I don’t know what it is yet.”
Both sides agree the tournament game was postponed more than 30 minutes when a storm moved in. Portales was leading the elimination game 7-5, with three innings to play when the game was halted because of the storm.
After a 30- to 40-minute delay, Marez said he was told play would resume though he felt lightning was still too close.
Marez said he voiced his displeasure to Portales district representative Steve Adkins and others.
“It’s not worth it for me to tell a kid’s parent he was killed when you said it was safe and I know it’s not,” Marez said he told Adkins.
Adkins and umpire Joe Gilmore could not be reached for comment on Saturday, but Harris said he’s confident no one risked players’ safety to complete the game.
“It wasn’t just the umpire,” Harris said. “We had a district representative (Adkins) and an assistant district administrator who was in charge because I had to work and all three said play ball. They said lightning was not anywhere close by.”
Marez said he wanted to play the game, but thought officials should wait another 30 minutes or so before resuming play.
“Sometimes I wonder who we are out there for, our own egos?” Marez said. “My kids are sitting out and can’t win this tournament now because a group of men had to flex their muscle and tell me what I’m going to do. They never were thinking about the safety of the kids.”
Bent Wachter is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. He said the best way to measure a storm’s distance is to count the seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder.
“If you see the flash and then count five seconds (before hearing thunder), then that lightning bolt is five miles away,” he said. “Lightning can shoot out at a diagonal, so you want a little grace period. If a thunderstorm is five miles away, there’s a possibility lightning might hit a couple miles closer.
“I think most events, you start hearing thunder then people come out of the pools and they stop the ball game, take shelter and wait for the (storm) to pass. But it’s kinda up to your comfort level.”
Wachter said storms can move as quickly as 35 mph.
Marez said he could still hear thunder when officials wanted play to resume, but Harris said the storm had clearly passed. Harris said the league has no rule about when play is called, but generally games are halted when lightning is within 10 miles.