The historic and deadly flooding that has crippled the Midwest through the winter and into the spring, and caused billions of dollars in damage to farms and infrastructure, has forced Davenport, Iowa’s minor league baseball team to the road for most of the six week old season.
In “Field of Dreams,” the iconic 1989 film homage to fathers, sons and small-town baseball, the long-deceased Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Ray Liotta, reappears in uniform on a field that’s bordered by acres of corn. Protagonist Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, an anonymous, baseball-loving farmer, had built the field in his backyard to somehow attract his deceased dad, a one-time minor leaguer, from the great beyond.
Thanks to time travel and poetic license, Shoeless Joe, two teams worth of early 20th century baseball greats, and Ray’s dad all emerged from the corn fields as young men to play a game. Kinsella and his younger-than-himself dad famously played catch and then the young-but-deceased ballplayers returned to from whence they came, walking back into the corn.
Shoeless Joe was the last to go.
Before disappearing into the corn, he famously asked Ray, “Is this heaven?”
Ray’s reply? “No, it’s Iowa”
QUAD CITIES RIVER BANDITS IN FIRST PLACE, DESPITE AN UN-HEAVENLY, FLOOD RAVAGED EARLY SEASON
Residents of Davenport and other sections of Eastern Iowa that abut the Mississippi River might use a descriptor other than heavenly to describe the prolonged, massive flooding that has persisted since winter.
The river’s rising waters, which are forecast to affect millions across as many as 25 states through the summer, have made it impossible for the Quad City River Bandits, Davenport’s Class A minor league baseball club affiliated with the Houston Astros, to play at home for most of the season’s first six weeks.
That the team is somehow in first place in the Midwest League’s Western Division after 30 games played mostly on the road is astounding. They’ve been Road Warriors because they can’t access their stadium as it is surrounded by water.
Modern Woodmen Park, the River Bandit’s home field, is saved from floodwaters by a levee system. It can be reached during some floods, thanks to a 21 foot high catwalk. But that was not enough to deal with the record-high water that hit 22.64 feet on May 2nd, the day after a flood wall unexpectedly broke, according to the National Weather Service.
Modern Woodmen Park and downtown Davenport is seen from the air as flood waters flowed into the city on Wednesday, May 1. A flood wall broke the day before, sending water to near record levels with little to no warning (Photo credit: Brian Powers/The Des Moines Register)
Per a May 4 story by Phil McCausland on nbcnews.com, that means “the players are unable to practice regularly, stadium employees have had to find other jobs and the team has known little else than the road for most of the season.”
“They have had three practices at our field,” general manager Jacqueline Holm told McCausland. “They’ve barely been on the field. It’s been difficult for them to do anything. We’ve basically had to use the team bus as a clubhouse and storage unit.”
Davenport, with a population of 103,000, has in fared better than most other towns along the Mississippi’s most flood-prone sections, thanks to a unique flood protection system.
McCausland noted that many towns along the Mississippi River have built flood walls to protect against rising waters, but Davenport has gone in a different direction for decades. Instead, it has worked to build flood-resistant buildings and created a riverwalk area around the ballpark that can accommodate the additional water. A temporary berm system can also be built when necessary.
“We have embraced the Mississippi River,” Frank Klipsch, Davenport’s mayor since 2016, said. “It has become more and more popular to take on this kind of resiliency plan because if we put up a wall, it makes it worse for communities further downriver.”
Ryan Lincoln maneuvers his boat through flood waters on May 2, 2019 in Davenport, Iowa (Photo credit: Kevin E. Schmid/Quad-City Times via Zuma Press)
Some unlucky business owners saw multiple feet of water flow into their restaurants and storefronts last week when a temporary levee, which had already stood for 40 days this year, suddenly broke.
This kind of flooding is not something most of the River Bandits players, most in their late teens to early 20s, could have imagined. It makes their already difficult road to reaching the major leagues even tougher.
Manager Ray Hernandez praised his young players’ resiliency and ability to maintain focus despite the challenges. But the first-year skipper admitted he didn’t have all the answers.
“Even if it was my 15th season managing, I don’t know if I would know how to handle this,” Hernandez told McCausland. “I mean, who would I even call to ask and get advice?”
MINOR LEAGUE SPORTS PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO EXTREME WEATHER
It stands to reason that minor league teams, no matter the sport, are much more susceptible to the harsh effects of extreme weather and climate change than their wealthier major league counterparts.
A number of lower division English football/soccer clubs have been buffeted by flooding in recent years. In some cases, the impacts have bordered on the existential.
Andrew Gate, writing in the April 30 issue of Ecologist, cited these examples:
- Sixth tier Gloucester City AFC have yet to have a permanent stadium after floods destroyed their former home Meadow Park in 2007. A plan was approved on May 3 to build a new venue on the same site.
- Flooding nearly meant the end of 127-year old Tadcaster Albion, currently playing in the eighth tier, not once, but twice. Water completely submerged the club’s Ings Lane Stadium in 2015 and again this March. The club’s press officer Jay Taylor noted that the club faces an uncertain future if such flooding happens again.
Flooding submerged Tadcaster Albion’s Ings Lane Stadium in March (Photo credit: Tadcaster Albion)
- Ramsbottom United, also in the eighth tier, has had to battle back from flooding twice, in 2012 and 2015 their home was completely submerged. Club Secretary Tony Cunningham told Gate that, “In 2015, the dressing rooms, the teabar and even the elevated Sponsors Lounge were submerged. It took us well over £40,000 ($US52,010 today) to get the club back up and running.”
For a club in the lower reaches of English football, an unexpected £40,000 hit can be crushing. Ramsbottom United, thanks to prudent management, has been able to withstand the flood-related costs until now.
But there are no guarantees going forward.
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