At first blush, having a protective tarpaulin at Las Vegas Ballpark might seem more redundant than offering frose at the concession stands.
Frose, I’m told, is a frozen rose wine slush. They probably aren’t available on the concourse in Pittsburgh.
A tarp is a protective cover made of heavy waterproof material that is rolled out, often at short notice, to cover a baseball infield during inclement weather. It, too, is a foreign concept to many local baseball fans.
It so seldom rains in Las Vegas that the Stars and 51s rarely needed a tarp. During the first 36 years of Triple-A baseball in Las Vegas, only a handful of games were postponed by weather.
But when a storm interrupted batting practice Tuesday, head groundskeeper Collin Doebler and his crew quickly rolled out the huge gray tarp, preventing the infield from becoming a quagmire. Without the tarp, the start of the game might have been delayed for a long cleanup, or perhaps even postponed.
— Las Vegas Ballpark (@thelvballpark) May 8, 2019
“It saved our butt,” Aviators president Don Logan said. “It poured for about half an hour. I’m sure the whole dirt portion of the infield would have been under water.”
The tarp may get rolled out again sooner than later, as a 55 percent chance of rain is forecast for Thursday and Friday.
Money well spent
A tarp was almost a necessity when the team moved from Cashman Field downtown to Downtown Summerlin, Logan said. Summerlin has a slightly higher elevation and is much closer to the mountains, where weather conditions can change quickly and dramatically.
“I knew it was going to rain a lot more than it does at Cashman,” said Logan, who lives five minutes away from the new ballpark and has gotten caught out in deluges such as Tuesday’s without an umbrella more than once.
He said it is only a recommendation, not a rule, that Pacific Coast League ballparks be equipped with tarps. At Cashman, small tarps were used to cover home plate and the pitcher’s mound. Most of the few games that did get rained out were because the infield became too muddy and unplayable.
A new tarp costs around $7,500, Logan said. Had Tuesday’s game been postponed and 8,144 rain checks redeemed, the field cover already would have paid for itself.
“Third homestand, and we’ve already had to use it,” Logan said.
When the skies opened during batting practice, Doebler and his crew sprung into action like a volunteer fire department. The Las Vegas Ballpark grounds crew consists only of Doebler and two assistants, and it takes a minimum of eight, and preferably about 16, workers to roll out and put down the tarp.
So it was all hands on deck Tuesday.
Front office rollout
Some were female hands from the Aviators’ front office: Siobhan Steierman, director of ticket operations, and Melissa Harkavy, vice president of community relations, were among those who helped put down the ponderous vinyl cover.
“Once we got out here and got situated and organized, I think it went really well,” Doebler said about getting the field covered in a few minutes. “It’s not so much the rain, it’s the wind we get with the rain. We can get it covered; it’s just keeping it down on the ground where we want it. That’s the challenge.”
The tarp, which is stored on the field down the right-field line, is not automatic. It is rolled out by hand. So there’s probably little chance a ballplayer will get run over and swallowed whole by it — which happened in St. Louis in 1985, knocking star outfielder Vince Coleman out of the World Series.
But now that the tarp has made its debut, how long will it be before a ballplayer puts his cap on backward or stuff a pillow under his jersey and entertain the crowd with belly-flops during a rain delay?
“I’d prefer to keep people off of it,” said Doebler, who sports a menacing goatee like a relief pitcher but broke into a wide grin at the thought of the Las Vegas Ballpark tarp providing entertainment for spectators after gray clouds roll in.
“But, hey, it’s their field. If they want to play slip ’n’ slide on it, have at it.”