It all comes crashing down after a few days


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

I arrived in Marion, Ill., a week and a half ago to prepare for yet another season as a minor league pitching coach. For the sixth straight season, I am in a different town with a new team, the Southern Illinois Miners.

My first few days in Marion were all about settling in. Moving into my apartment, getting my car for the season and making numerous runs to Target and Walmart to fill my place with the essentials.

A couple of Fridays ago, just a couple of days into our spring training, I got a rude reminder that I was indeed in the Midwest.

As he has for the past couple of seasons, our manager, Mike Pinto, set-up a little rookie activity he likes to call “;Miners Idol.”; This year we had six players with no previous professional experience vying for the crown in our very own singing competition.

With veteran slugger Brad Miller as Simon, right fielder Jereme Milons doing a spot-on Randy Jackson impression and all-star second baseman Tony Roth in full drag doing his best Paula Abdul, our rookies battled it out for clubhouse bragging rights. The ballclub even hired a professional DJ to run the karaoke competition and had our team's audio-visual guys running two cameras to chronicle the event.

I am happy to say that my fellow UH-Hilo alumnus Michael Higa represented Hawaii well, winning the title of “;Miners Idol,”; with a play list that included Shaggy, Garth Brooks, and K-Ci and JoJo.

As the three-round competition drew to a close, I peeked outside our clubhouse door and saw sheets of heavy rain coming down with no end in sight.

A few moments later, it got even worse. As I sat in front of my locker, I heard what I initially thought was a siren going off outside. Turns out it was the wind howling outside at tree-snapping speeds.

Several of our players rushed to the door to check it out and saw the trees outside of our stadium bending almost parallel to the ground, and debris flying everywhere. Two of the enormous light poles at our stadium came crashing down.

When it was all said and done, the damage was bad, with 65,000 people in the area without power — some for almost a week, due to the 106 mph winds measured during what the National Weather Service called an “;Inland Hurricane.”;

Driving home from the ballpark that evening was a sight to see. Trees were down everywhere, electric lines were on the ground, part of the rooftops from a restaurant and a hotel in front of our stadium were scattered in the parking lot.

I returned to my apartment to find a tree that had to be 100 feet high, and 20 feet around the trunk, had crashed to the ground just in front of my garage. If it had fallen 20 feet to the left, it would have demolished my bedroom. Fortunately, there was no physical damage to my place.

Within days, crews working overnight had the main part of town running at some capacity again. A couple of days after that, most customers were online again. Unfortunately, my place was one of the last to get power back, so I slept in our clubhouse on our manager's couch for a few nights.

It was bad, but things could have been a lot worse. The best part is that we never missed a day of spring training. Our guys adjusted and managed. You could tell it took something out of everyone emotionally, but they have started to bounce back, and soon this will all be just another story to tell.

In times like these, I really feel lucky to live in Hawaii. I can't even imagine the winters here.


Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and UH Hilo, is the pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.