If it’s Raining, it must be Islands Night
Everywhere of late the drought news is grim. Red-flag weather warnings dominate the newscasts as meteorologists shake their heads in disbelief. Brush fires rage from Alva to the Bailey Tract as firefighters brace for the worst. Some say 2009 has been the driest year since 1934. Images of the Great Depression come to mind, dust bowls and penniless Floridians driving in old pick-up trucks looking for rain.
And still the rain does not fall. Severe water restrictions are enacted. Lawns begin to look like manicured landscapes of circus straw. Bushes look anemic, full grown trees wilt. Nothing seems to be able to break the drought. Someone from the Southwest Florida Water Management District gets on the phone to Hollywood only to be devastated when he finds out Burt Lancaster, the “Rainmaker”, is dead. Some say it hasn’t rained in Florida since Moses was Governor. All hope is lost.
Somewhere deep inside of Bailey’s General Store one man is glad for the drought. That man is Sam Bailey, the man who’s been the driving force behind his upcoming annual event, Islands Night. A night of rainless baseball, eating cotton candy and rooting for the home team. For weeks, Sam’s been printing thousands of free tickets with a sense of confidence he’s seldom had in the past. This year, without question, it won’t rain on his Grand Parade. It’s a statistical impossibility. It hasn’t rained a quarter inch at the ballpark since March. The official start of the hurricane season is June 1st, which is weeks away. This year will be perfect.
The day of the event approaches, May 13th, 2009. Someone should have made note of that particular choice, even if it wasn’t a Friday. Forecasters, growing weary of showing charts of Southwest Florida depicting drought numbers pushing 800 and every county appearing as red as a flame thrower, cannot believe what they are seeing. Storm clouds gather by noon that Wednesday. Sam is in a state of denial.
At 5:32 p.m. a slight drizzle starts falling. Tailgate parties out at the Twins Stadium parking lot do not run for cover. People are torn. We need the rain so badly that it feels good to be wet. Hot dog buns dissolve in peoples hands as the downpour picks up. The Grand Parade is put on hold until the rain lightens up. This cannot be happening.
Around 7 p.m. the rain backs off. It’s over. The caravan of local restaurant floats, service vans and assorted vehicles pull into the infield and swing by the stands. It was just a passing shower. Teenagers in the back of pickups wave to their friends and parents. It is so incredibly Mayberry by the Sea that the local announcer starts to sound like Barney Fife. Sam Bailey himself begins to resemble Andy Griffith. Life is good.
Minutes after the parade ends the showers mysteriously return. There will be a rain delay, but the baseball game is not canceled, announces Don Knots. Everyone flocks to the inside, mingling with other Islanders, ordering red velvet cake and drinking beer. The rain will pass, some think optimistically. The Fort Myers Miracle will be out on the field within the hour, making quick work of the Sarasota Reds. There is no way this rain can keep falling. It hasn’t rained in Lee County since Noah’s ark ran aground.
Around 8:50 p.m. the light rain lets up enough for the crew to roll the tarps back. Four tenors from the island sing the National Anthem. Island Night at Hammond Stadium will not be rained out this year. People think back to 2008 and remember that it “didn’t rain last year” either. This will make it two years in a row. Everyone knows “it rained like mad” in 2007, “poured” in 2006, “drenched everyone” in 2005, absolutely “came down in buckets” in 2004, was a “deluge” in 2003, a “real soaker” in 2002, “never let up” in 2001, “etc. etc. etc.”
Being the home team, the Miracles take the field. The pitcher settles in, striking out the first two batters and surprisingly walking the third. The Sanibel crowd is slowly, cautiously leaving the safety of the dry hallways and the concession area and finding seats near the infield. Its useless. Twenty-two pitches into the game and the skies open up like a bad day in the Amazon basin. There is a single cloud in all of Lee County and it’s gone stationary over Hammond Stadium. Within minutes the game is called. Sam Bailey is wandering around the hallways in a state of shock. If it’s raining, it must be Island Night.
It’s time we rethink this annual rain-maker. It’s time Sam Bailey cashes in on this bizarre anomaly. The next time the drought index numbers push 750, regardless of the month, the law of averages, the long range forecast, all Sam has to do is announce Islands Night and start handing out tickets. It’s like some kind of ancient Calusa curse. Declare it Islands Night and wait for the rains to start falling. It’s like death and taxes, only wetter.
Yes, it rained again this year on Island Night. In the end no one really cared. The beer tasted good, the brats bad and everyone knew we needed rain more than we needed a Miracle victory. In fact, the rain was miracle enough. The rainy season is back, starting this year on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009. The same exact day as Islands Night. What a coincidence.
Charles Sobczak is a Florida Author and a Realtor with VIP Realty. He has written several books including “Six Mornings on Sanibel”. To learn more about his writings go to www.indigopress. net.