Baseball / Sports

Cubs call tarp debacle a 'freak occurrence'

Long after Wednesday night's game had ended, Cubs head groundskeeper Roger Baird was working on the infield when manager Rick Renteria walked up and gave him a hug.

It was a nice gesture and a much-needed show of support for Baird, a good man caught in a bad situation, one that put him in the media spotlight for the first time in his two-decade career at Wrigley Field.

Baird and the Cubs grounds crew had been tossed under the bus after Tuesday night's tarp debacle, when they couldn't get an already soaked infield covered in time to prevent it from turning into swampland.

Everyone has a bad day. Few of us receive as much national media attention as the Cubs grounds crew did after the longest night of their careers.

Giants announcer Mike Krukow claimed they intentionally botched the tarp deployment to ensure a Cubs victory before eventually retracting his remarks. ESPN's Keith Olbermann included them on his daily list of "worst persons" in the sports world.

And Major League Baseball cited the Cubs for "failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use" in its news release announcing the decision to uphold the Giants' protest, which led to the resumption of the game Thursday.

Naturally, another round of showers delayed the resumption, officially turning it into a 6-hour, 31-minute rain delay. Taking no chances, the Cubs employed 32 grounds crew members to pull the tarp, about twice as many as Tuesday night.

Fans gave them a mock ovation when they rolled the tarp onto the field in the late afternoon, and everyone laughed.

The grounds crew certainly wasn't blameless in the fiasco, but in some respects they were victims of circumstance. Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt turned out to be the Alex Gonzalez of the tarp game, getting off the hook despite his tardy decision to call for the delay in the first place.

Even worse, Wendelstedt blamed Mother Nature -- a notorious White Sox fan -- for her stealth attack on Wrigley.

"We watched the radar loop," Wendelstedt said Tuesday. "Mother Nature was not raining, according to the radar. No one had any facts that saw this coming. Then it was just a bad set of unfortunate things."

Adding to the unfortunate occurrences, some members of the Wrigley security staff were pulled off their jobs Tuesday night to assist the grounds crew after the Cubs had sent employees from the morning crew home, believing it would not rain.

Baird was unavailable for comment. The Cubs asked the grounds crew not to speak to the media, deferring to spokesman Julian Green.

"There should be no thought or any question these guys fumbled the ball," Green said. "They step up to the plate and do this with a guy who's led our crew for decades. Even after (Tuesday night's) game, I would put my money on Roger Baird every time."

Was the decision to send employees home a factor?

"Staffing, hours and scheduling had absolutely nothing to do with Tuesday's freak occurrence," Green said. "There was no rain in the forecast. The umpires saw no rain in the forecast. This was an exercise that is done before every game. Typically if there is rain in the forecast, the morning facilities crew stays on to assist the night game crew.

"In this case, since there was no rain in the forecast, the morning crew was not on hand. This is typically why, if a rain system is coming, you may see upward of 20 or 25 people on the field. In this case we had adequate numbers. There were enough guys to pull the tarp.

"Unfortunately with this freak occurrence weather system, along with the mishap with the roller, it led to a lengthy delay. The good news is per the rules in baseball ... it was resolved."

It was, thanks in part to the Cubs' support of the protest by the team they beat so the game could end in a fair manner. The Cubs wound up winning 2-1, fair and square.

"I don't know for a fact, but I think (the Cubs helped) because they were for us finishing the game today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said beforehand. "My compliments to all the organization. It's the right thing to do."

Sometimes the Cubs do the right thing, against all odds.

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