Tarpocalypse: Slammers president takes one for the team
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org July 2, 2012 4:18PM
Joliet Slammers YouTube video showing the tarp during a recent ballgame at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. | Joliet Slammers YouTube channel
ON THE WEB
Video of Tarpocalypse 2012 available at
Updated: August 4, 2012 6:20AM
The captain goes down with the ship.
Or, in this case, with the tarp.
“At the beginning I was embarrassed that I was the one who got stuck under there,” Joliet Slammers president Bill Waliewski said. “But then I thought, ‘The captain should always go down with the ship.’ Everyone else miraculously got out. If it had to be anybody on our staff under there, I’m glad it was me.”
A video broadcast and recorded on the Slammers’ Ustream channel Friday night of the team’s front office and grounds crew battling one of the most severe thunderstorms ever to interrupt a baseball game at Silver Cross Field now has nearly a half-million views on the team’s YouTube page.
Fortunately, no one was injured, Waliewski included. The video has been picked up by Deadspin, Yahoo, USA Today, FOX News Report and ABC 7, among others. It also can be seen at www.heraldnewsonline.com.
The video alone does not tell the entire story of “Tarpocalypse 2012.”
The Slammers were taking on the Southern Illinois Miners. In midgame, Waliewski was in touch with the National Weather Service and was monitoring other weather sources. He knew the potential for a “significant storm.” So he wrote a quick announcement that was read over the P.A. system, informing the crowd that bad weather was approaching, and the possibility was the rest of the game and fireworks show could be canceled.
The announcement included a note that everyone attending the game could use their ticket stub for a free ticket to another game this season. Many fans exited the stadium.
Meanwhile, the grounds crew and front office sprang into action.
“We mobilized to get the tarp down, and it was probably the most perfect tarp pull we’ve had in our year and half here,” Waliewski said. “It was spot-on. We had the sandbags down, everything.”
But as Waliewski, 46, was walking off the field with vice president of stadium operations Paul Rathje, they heard the wind.
“Maybe it was what they call a microburst,” Waliewski said. “Paulie started running, and I ran with him to the middle of the diamond.”
The tarp was crossing the infield from third base toward first base, then folding over onto itself.
Paulie yelled, ‘Let it go, let it go,’ ” Waliewski said. “I hesitated. In my mind, we still had a chance to save it. That was silly. There was no saving the tarp in those winds.
“It knocked me to my knees. I was able to clear with my shoulders and arms, but then I got swept up in it.”
Waliewski said he did not panic.
“It’s something of a blur,” he said. “There was so much wind in there that I tumbled once, but there were no injuries, nothing bad. I never really hit the ground. Under that tarp I was able to right myself, and it carried me toward the first-base line.
“Now the problem is I’m covered in a tarp. As things were kind of calming down for a minute, the tarp did come back and fold over me. At that point, my whole M.O. was to keep the tarp away from my face so I would not suffocate, then try to crawl and make my way out.”
The only time Waliewski became concerned was when he recognized the under-tarp dead silence.
“I was in there a minute and never heard voices, so I was concerned nobody knew I was there,” he said. “Other than that, my only thought was I hope my wife and kids don’t know I’m stuck in there because they’ll be worried.”
Finally, he heard a voice, that of promotions director Kelli Drechsel.
“I heard Kelli saying to go to the dugout, to keep moving toward the dugout,” he said. “I told her I don’t know where the dugout is from under here. She said, ‘Follow my voice,’ and I kept trying to do that. If it wasn’t for Kelli, I might still be under there. Eventually they were able to get the tarp up, and someone’s hand pulled me out.”
Waliewski said Monday afternoon he still was trying to learn whose hand he grabbed. Perhaps it was that of Slammers pitcher Jake Renshaw, who is credited with a “save” in the rescue.
Waliewski said he cannot say enough for the actions of the Slammers staff, the way everyone pulled together in an emergency. The fans who remained in the park were huddled into the service corridor under the stands and “played very well together in cramped quarters,” Waliewski said.
Slammers players all chipped in to assist fans. Mike Pinto, former JackHammers manager who now manages Southern Illinois, came out of the visitors clubhouse under the stands with sugar for a diabetic he heard was in need.
The tarp, although torn in a few places, came through Tarpocalypse like a trooper. Waliewski said a determination has not been made on whether it will need to be retired.
Well after midnight, Waliewski and some of his staff still were at the park talking and composing the video when a thought occurred to him: “Damn it, we lost a baseball game tonight.” The Miners won 7-4 in six innings.