CEDAR RAPIDS – Somewhere in center field was Doug Nelson’s pair of glasses. He had no idea where.
“You want to go find them for me?” he asked.
That the Cedar Rapids Kernels general manager could manage a weak smile and moment of levity was surprising considering what he and others had just been through.
Several members of the Kernels staff were injured Monday afternoon when a severe thunderstorm packing 80-mile-per-hour winds blew a tarp over them as they attempted to pull it onto the Veterans Memorial Stadium infield. The injuries included three concussions.
Assistant General Manager Scott Wilson dislocated his left shoulder.
“It was total chaos,” said Kernels head groundskeeper Jesse Roeder. “Someone very easily could have broken their neck or been very seriously injured.”
The Kernels tied the game at 3-3 on a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning by former Cedar Rapids Washington prep Chad Christensen. At inning’s conclusion, Roeder and Nelson alerted umpires about the impending storm as warning sirens sounded in town.
The grounds crew, members of the Kernels front office and other stadium volunteers scurried to the tarp, which is stationed in foul territory along the left-field line, and began to unroll it into left-center field.
“We heard the warning and that the storm was going to be here at 3:07,” Nelson said. “So we went out to talk to the umpires. When they heard it was a warning, it was a no-brainer, let’s pull everybody off the field. This was about 2:45, so we thought we had at least 10 minutes, which is more than enough time to get the tarp on. But we didn’t have 10 minutes. It came up on us much faster.”
One wind gust prevented the full unrolling, then another blew the tarp into the air, knocking people to the ground and the tarp over them. Roeder and Nelson were included.
“I was in the middle, Doug was right next to me,” Roeder said. “At first, the wind kind of stopped the tarp as we were starting to pull it. We got it going again, but it must have picked up behind us.
“All I remember is it came up from behind me, smacked me in the head and knocked me and other people down. People were trying to crawl out from underneath it, we had some of my guys trying to get people out from underneath it. Then it starts pouring rain.”
The plastic roll itself was blown over those who had been knocked to the ground. All power then went off at the stadium and recovering the tarp was deemed impossible.
Everyone appeared to walk off the field under their own power, though an obviously injured Wilson was holding his shoulder as he staggered to the field entry way behind home plate. His arm was in a sling as he left the ballpark for the hospital.
“I’m fine,” he said, not wishing to comment.
“It’s amazing the power that wind had,” Nelson said.
Clinton does not return to Cedar Rapids the remainder of the Midwest League season, so the game will be concluded during a series at Clinton that begins July 11.
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