Coincidentally, many ESPN personnel were planning to travel to the city for the network’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast, Cincinnati vs. St. Louis. Baseball Tonight was also set to originate live from the ballpark.
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, which sustained serious damage from the tornado, had been closed indefinitely. As a result, ESPN’s travel department quickly mapped out alternative plans.
More than 50 ESPN colleagues were rerouted, according to Marty Chacon, Manager, ESPN Events and Administration. New destinations included Cincinnati, Chicago, Evansville, Ind., Kansas City, and Springfield, Ill. From there, the employees drove the remainder of the trip.
ESPN reporter Buster Olney was already in St. Louis at the time of the tornado. He was directed to the basement of his downtown hotel.
Analyst John Kruk was one of the last to arrive, landing in Kansas City late Saturday night before driving to St. Louis the next morning.
Following the game, ESPN’s crew dispersed in several directions Monday morning. Some left on a bus at 3:30 a.m. CT to Chicago, where they caught a flight home.
A few others, including Olney, were able to depart from Lambert.
“When I returned to the airport Monday morning, I was stunned to see how good the place looked, how cleaned up it was less than 72 hours since being devastated by the tornado,” Olney said.
“There is a sense it could have been even worse, and anyone who heard the tornado sirens Friday evening and saw all the people at the ballpark knows it.”
Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play commentator Dan Shulman, who flew through Evansville, summarized his travel itinerary in a conversation with the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “First and foremost I feel for the people who lost their homes…travel troubles shouldn’t be portrayed as a big deal.
“It was pretty easy, actually, compared to what people here are going through.”