By Dave Wright
In Davenport, they have developed a healthy respect for the Mississippi River. This is particularly so at Modern Woodmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League). When the mighty Mississippi sits 20 feet behind your right field fence, you pay close attention in the spring to weather forecasts. So, when River Bandits Vice President/General Manager Kirk Goodman heard it was supposed to rain late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, he got an uneasy feeling in his stomach.
Oh, the ballpark would probably be safe – renovations after being flooded over a few years ago took care of the playing surface. At 10:30 a.m. – 90 minutes before the River Bandits were due to play Burlington — Gaines Street, the thoroughfare outside the first-base line, was totally under water. If the skies opened again, it was a small step until the water would go over the sidewalk and start to invade the lower office area.
Inside the ballpark, groundskeeper Ben Kratz got some help from the nearby St. Ambrose baseball team to get the field ready. This left others free to keep the water outside the park. The city responded by putting up temporary fencing that made Gaines Street an adventure but kept the water in tow.
“It is supposed to crest at 16 feet seven inches,” said Ben Chiswick, the River Bandits PR man who is also the team’s radio broadcaster. “If it stays like that, we’re fine because we can handle anything up to 17 feet. If we get another downpour …” Chiswick didn’t finish the sentence but he didn’t have to. The meaning was clear.
As it developed, Mother Nature smiled on the River Bandits. An hour before gametime, the clouds broke up, the sun took over and the largest crowd of the season – 4,465 fans (many of them kids who were there as a part of a book-reading program) sloshed their way into mainly dry seats. As it developed, the local team was all wet most of the game, managing just two runs on 12 hits in a 5-2 loss. The kids didn’t seem to care, though. Truth be told, management probably didn’t either.
When you have gone through floods before, as happened here in 1965, 1993 and 2001, you are just happy to get a game in.
In 2001, the water flooded so fast the team was forced to move its home games to Clinton and other locales until the stadium could be dried. “That was the worst one we ever had,” said Matt, who was wandering around right field a half-hour before the game started. “The water was so high that some of the boats couldn’t get under the bridge over there.” Matt pointed to a bridge in the middle of the Mississippi. “I’ve lived here all my life and never saw anything like it.”