Groundskeeper lives to laugh about tarp fiasco

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The tarp that covers Major League Baseball fields during rain delays weigh about 6½ ounces per square yard. Tack on the roller around which the tarp wraps, and the entire cylinder goes a good 1,500 pounds, about the same as a Yugo, plenty to crush the life out of any poor sap trapped underneath it.

Which made Travis Hogan's appearance at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night all the more miraculous. Perhaps you saw Hogan on the highlights – or, more likely, the lowlights. He was the guy who got swallowed alive by the Kansas City Royals' tarp and lived to tell about it.

"I don't recommend it," Hogan said. "It hurt. I'm not afraid to tell you."

Still, he was here at 5:30 p.m., like always, scrapes on his knees, ribs aching and the skies above threatening to open up and expose him to another potential run-in with his vinyl nemesis. Make no mistake, the tarpaulin is indeed a dangerous witch. An automatic one ensnared Vince Coleman – the fastest outfielder in the game – during the NLCS in 1985, chewed one of his legs and caused him to miss the rest of the season. Another whipped and lashed like the Kraken, sending crew members in Denver flying before the Philadelphia Phillies rushed out of their dugout to avert further chaos.

How Hogan prevented the first-ever trial of manslaughter-by-tarp is as much a lesson in ingenuity as clumsiness. Yes, Hogan's tumble into the line of the tarp would've scored 1.0s across the board for its inelegance – the faulty mount, the slip, the heels-over-head tumble – but the save was pure genius.

"I was trying to scrape my way out from underneath and couldn't make it," Hogan said, doing his best to sound like Aron Ralston. "My left leg was pinned, and I didn't want it to go over me sideways, so I just laid down. I brought my shoulder up and turned my head sideways so it wouldn't shove my head into the ground. And over it went."

A few fellow members of the grounds crew realized what happened and stopped rolling. The rest, most of them 100 feet or more away, kept unfurling the tarp and carried it on top of Hogan. At very least, he figured, his leg would break. The majority of the weight instead spread along his spine.

"My back probably popped eight times when it rolled over me," Hogan said. "I told my mom last night that if I had any hint of scoliosis, it's gone now. It got rolled out of me."

Almost immediately, Hogan got to his feet. He appeared dazed, a fair affect for having been steamrollered by a three-quarter-ton tarp. Though the worst part was over, it wouldn't get much better. Hogan returned to the grounds crew's perch on the side of the field.

"Hey, Speed Bump," he heard.

He's been Speed Bump ever since. He'll buy donuts for the rest of the crew, too, for his epic fail/foul/fall.

"The pain from them," Hogan said, "is way worse than anything I could get from the tarp."

Not to mention bearing the brunt of laughter across the sport for an entire day and for decades to come in blooper reels. Inside the Seattle Mariners' clubhouse Friday, players sat rapt in front of the television. MLB Network practically did a Zapruder breakdown of Hogan's breakdown.

The verdict: That's one tough klutz.

"How did you go from moron to celebrity?" asked Trevor Vance, the Royals' head groundskeeper.

"What I want to know," Hogan replied, "is how I went from moron to complete moron to celebrity."

Hogan, 35, is in his sixth year with the Royals' grounds crew. He works full-time across the street from Kauffman at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs' home, and does the baseball gig because he loves the sport and doesn't mind pocketing a few extra bucks. He got hit in the face with a ball once, an injury that caused significantly more pain but nowhere near the grief of the tarp tumble.

"It really weighed 12 tons and had sharp objects in it," Vance said. "You're lucky to be alive."

"No," Hogan said. "It was 72,000 pounds and had 100 bayonets stabbing me."

The legend of Travis Hogan will grow even bigger through the years.

Groundkeepers will tell apocryphal stories about the biggest, baddest, angriest tarp in the land and the little man that slayed it. They'll probably make him sound tough. They'll definitely make him sound stupid. And they'll certainly make him a folk hero among the small fraternity that tames the 30,000-square-foot, 1,500-pound monster with a mind of its own.

Long live Speed Bump.

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