Nineteen professional baseball players showed up at UC Irvine's Anteater Stadium Saturday to participate in the third annual AT&T $100,000 Baseball Challenge. It was easy to recognize the players. They were the dry ones.
As drizzle turned to downpour, and downpour became sprinkles, the players took shelter in the UCI dugout and the specially erected players' tent. Every now and then, they would pop out long enough to participate in the bunting competition or the throw-for-accuracy competition, and then it was right back to the tent.
"I think I'm jinxed in California," said Joe Carter, a Cleveland Indian outfielder. "It rains today, and the last time I was here, there was an earthquake."
On the other side of the fence, sans tent, were the hardy handful who decided that an opportunity to see players of the caliber of Carter, Tony Gwynn of the Padres, Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos and Jose Canseco of the Oakland A's was worth the price of becoming a human sponge.
Especially amazing was that these people got in for free, and they didn't have $10 tickets chaining them to their seats--or, in the case of Anteater Stadium, holding them to blocks of concrete. Or, in the case of four Woodbridge High School baseball players, keeping them in their place on the outfield wall.
Jim Eklund, P.J. O'Brien, Matt Stoys and Marc Howard showed up at 8:30 a.m. and found "absolutely nothing going on."
The competition was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but because of the rain, the first event, throwing for accuracy, did not begin until noon. In the interim, the four thought they would get some autographs, but that fell through.
"We forgot to bring the paper," O'Brien said.
They said they had come out to pick up some hints from the big leaguers. What did they learn?
"How to goof off," said Eklund.
"And get paid for it," Stoys added.
Carter won the $50,000 first-place prize. Len Dykstra of the New York Mets, who attended Garden Grove High School, was second and Coleman was third.
Back on the concrete slabs, Matt Dahlgren, a senior catcher on the University High School baseball team, was watching everything with a strange intensity, considering that nothing much was going on.
The competition, which benefits the Special Olympics, was supposed to determine the best all-around baseball player by using seven events.
However as the rain steadily fell, the running events--from second to home and from home to first--were scratched. The event for fielding ground and fly balls was pared to just fielding fly balls, and from four rounds to two.
As one kid in a baseball cap and glove noted with exasperation: "What a day for baseball."
But Dahlgren didn't seem to mind.
"I like just studying the way they move," he said.
Dahlgren is the grandson of Ellsworth (Babe) Dahlgren, who played 12 years of major league baseball, from 1935-1946, and is best remembered as the player who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base for the Yankees.
"Baseball is in his blood," said Don Dahlgren, Matt's father, who played in the Houston Astro and Boston Red Sox organizations.
"He's the main reason I'm still out here. He just wants to be near these guys, and see what they do. Maybe pick something up. It's a great opportunity for Matt. He lives for baseball."
And absorbs water.