Tales from the Minors: Tarp pull peril

Team employees cover the field with waterlogged stories of triumph and terror

April 22nd, 2021

Want to work in Minor League Baseball? Then know this: You're going to pull tarp.

The 2021 Minor League season begins May 4, and pulling tarp will once again be a fact of life for nearly every team employee. The head groundskeeper generally leads the charge, but the labor needed to cover the entire field in protective plastic requires the participation of the entire front office staff. When the rains hit -- or when the forecast is foreboding -- then it's time to drop what you're doing, change into loose-fitting and probably already filthy "tarp clothes" (if possible) and get a waterlogged workout alongside your co-workers.

Last month this writer put out a call on Twitter, asking Minor League Baseball employees past and present to share their most memorable tarp pulling experiences. The veritable deluge of replies illustrated the universality of the tarp pull experience as well as its sheer frequency. Respondents recalled pulling tarp in Opening Night formal wear, pulling tarp in the 21st inning and pulling tarp eight times in one day. One poor soul lost her wallet and keys in the tarp, while many others reported losing their dignity (more on them in a moment).

Several anecdotes involved unlikely sources of tarp pull assistance, involving players, employees of the opposing team and...is that Abe Lincoln?

Lincoln did indeed pull tarp at the Nashville Sounds' then-home of Greer Stadium in 2014, when he was in town for the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball All-Star Game. (The league's North Division triumphed over the South in that ballgame, appropriately enough.) While the 16th President of the United States was unavailable for comment, many others were. Here are their tarp pull tales, which can perhaps be best summarized thusly: Beware the tarp monster.

Jordan Strack (former Toledo Mud Hens pre- and post-game host)
These days, Jordan Strack is the sports director for Toledo TV station WTOL. His moment of tarp pulling terror occurred in 2006, and he still can't live it down.

"I had dress pants and dress shoes on. It was like running on ice," Strack recalled. "I slipped. Going under the tarp is such a claustrophobic feeling. It was brutal. I popped back up pretty quick and got out, thankfully. Needless to say, they never let me live it down and it has been brought up randomly for 15 years."

Evan Moesta (multimedia manager, Carolina Mudcats)
Moesta was late getting to the field during a Carolina Mudcats tarp pull in 2019, and this led to his (literal) downfall.

"When you get stuck with the mound in a tarp pull, especially an in-game tarp pull where you’ve got to go fast, the mound is your worst enemy. When you have a white tarp and it’s over the mound, you can’t see the bump so you just have to guess," said Moesta.

"After I got over the mound [my co-workers] had started their way back [toward me]," he continued. "So me, an intellectual, thought maybe if I change my direction and turn around I can grab the tarp as I’m running, catch it in stride, and keep pulling with them. But as I turned to go the other direction, I completely ate it. My feet came out from under me, I slipped like it was on a banana peel in Mario Kart, and my tailbone hit right on the infield dirt and it was rock solid. I probably left a crater at shortstop."

Matt Sutor (former Durham Bulls director of marketing and communications)
Avoid the mound? You don't have to tell Matt Sutor twice. His encounter with the tarp monster occurred during a 2018 Durham Bulls game.

"I knew the mound was in front of me and covered, and that it’d be slick. I saw a grounds crew guy do something to the mound tarp, and it instantly threw me off. I had no chance once I hit the incline and just ate it," recalled Sutor. "I knew the tarp wasn’t going to stop and I thought about how I’d have to army crawl out. Luckily I WAS on the mound and it WAS covered, because I actually slid back down the other side of the mound and was able to pop out from underneath. Being in the entertainment business I of course had to make a notable reappearance, which the crowd seemed to enjoy."

Sutor's moment of infamy can be seen below. Just follow the arrow.

Tess Bloom (Amarillo Sod Poodles director of marketing and communications)
For Bloom, one of the lowlights of the Sod Poodles' inaugural 2019 campaign involved pulling tarp. She was late to the tarp pull, ended up in front of the mound, and...

"A couple of seconds later, I was tarp surfing," she said. "[Former co-worker] Nick Hall turns around, sees me sitting and riding the tarp and yells 'Well, don't let go!' To which I responded 'I wasn't planning on it!' Joe [Corbisiero], our production manager, was so kind and put my embarrassing fall on the Jumbotron for all 6,200 fans to see that night."

Find the mound, and then you'll find Tess:

Savanna Waite (former Kalamazoo Growlers director of activation); Tom Olds (Kalamazoo Growlers director of stadium operations)
Tarp tales come from all levels of baseball, of course. This one, from the Kalamazoo Growlers of the summer-collegiate Northwoods League, shows how dangerous they can be. In the below video, from the 2019 season, Savanna Waite is standing at home plate when the tarp breaks free and careens toward her like a screaming banshee.

"The only thing I was thinking during that pull was that we had to keep the tarp low and under the wind, which is why I tried running back towards the tarp to pull it down," said Waite. "At one point the tarp had to have been 30 feet in the air and that's when I started running. ... [O]ur safest option was to just evacuate."

"That was by far my scariest moment working in sports," added Olds. "It gave me a new respect for how dangerous it can be pulling tarp, and the cautions that need to be taken. At the end of the day, it's better to let it rain and have to recover the flooded field, than allow someone to get hurt by trying to get the tarp on the field. We have new protocols and procedures in place now to ensure that we are able to handle extreme weather at our stadium in a safe, effective way."

Dan Reiter (Springfield Cardinals general manager)
Minor League front offices don't have injured lists, but if they did Reiter would have been on it do to a tarp pulling mishap. It wasn't all bad, though:

"Two weeks after my wife had our first kid [in July of 2015], we had a tarp pull as hard winds and rain came in," said Reiter. "As I sprint across the tarp a large gust came in, which made one leg stride forward, while the other went back. I did the splits, got swallowed by the tarp and ended up hobbling for 6 weeks with a partially torn hamstring. The silver lining was more time home with my wife and newborn."

Speaking of silver linings, former Delmarva Shorebirds communications and marketing manager Steve Uhlmann points out that Ofelky Peralta will always have a professional no-hitter to his name. His no-no was due in no small part to a tarp mishap that rendered the game unplayable after five innings:

Silver linings are great, but nonetheless a representative sentiment among former Minor League employees is that "My last tarp pull was the best one." Or, more succinctly, "I do not miss it." But as time-consuming, sloppy and scary as tarp pulls can be, they are a bonding experience and often looked back on with no small amount of pride.

"Very painful moment, very embarrassing moment, but after the fact [I was] very thankful that it was caught on video because I will always have that to commemorate what it’s like to pull tarp in Minor League Baseball," said Moesta, offering his final thoughts on his 2019 on-field tumble. "It’s a rite of passage. If you fall you just have to wear it. It is what it is, man."