ST. LOUIS — At first, the tarp wasn’t talking.
“Get away from me,” it mumbled. “I don’t need no cheesehead reporters around me now.”
Hours earlier, the tarp had committed the most heinous crime of this NL playoff. During batting practice, it had rolled up the leg of an unsuspecting Vince Coleman, the Cardinals’ prize rookie, trapping him under the weight of its 1,200 pounds until teammates could pull him free.
Coleman escaped with minor bruises and cuts, but was forced to miss Sunday’s and Monday’s games. Now the police were bringing the tarp down to the station. The charge: attempted man-smother.
Suddenly, the tarp made a break for it. It hopped into the stands and tried to hide as a foul pole. The police spotted it when it began to flap in the wind. They slapped on the cuffs, which wasn’t easy, since the tarp was 180 feet long.
“Why’d you do it?” a reporter screamed.
“Did you mean to roll over all of Coleman, or just his legs?” another hollered.
The tarp was silent, as tarps will be.
“Were you trying to make a political statement?”
“What did you plan to do with him once you had him rolled up?”
“Mr. Tarp, I’m from People magazine. Is it true you only did this to impress Jodie Foster’s pillowcase?”
The tarp shifted uncomfortably. There was an awkward silence. Finally, it spoke.
“Look,” it said, “if you want to ask me questions, at least ask them to my face. You’re all standing at the wrong end.”
The reporters scurried to a more appropriate position.
“It’s a frame-up,” the tarp began. “I was just doing my job. It rains, I unroll. I’m automatic. It ain’t my responsibility to look out for dumb rookies.”
“But isn’t it a strange coincidence that it was Coleman — the Cardinals’ best base-stealer — that you trapped?” someone asked.
The tarp said nothing.
“Someone said you were seen talking with Tommy Lasorda the other night.”
“And how come you’re blue? Shouldn’t you be red like everything else here?”
“Hey! Lookit this!” a reporter hollered. He’d found a tag in the tarp’s far corner. It read Made In Los Angeles.
“Let go! Let go!” the tarp yelled, its voice unsteady. “OK. I give. A guy came by Saturday night wearing a Dodgers jacket. I was just hanging around my cylinder. He pulled out $500 and said it was mine if I could take out Coleman, who was burning the Dodgers with his speed.
“Do you know what $500 means to a poor tarp like me? I live in a hole, for cripes sake. I never seen that kind of money in my pockets. Come to think of it, I never seen my pockets.”
The tarp grew somber. It wrinkled up.
“This ain’t an easy life, you know. Rainy days always get me down, so to speak. How would you feel if every time you came out, people booed? Then you just lie there, face in the dirt, soaking wet.
“I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a parachute, maybe. But no. I came from the wrong side of the mats.
“My dad was a shower curtain. My mom was a rubber sheet. What chance did I have? Now I’m going to the Big House. I’ve heard stories about that place. They cut you into place mats, rags, Hefty trash bags.”
The policemen took their positions around the tarp, getting ready to carry it off.
“Coleman!” a reporter yelled. “Quick, tell us about Coleman!”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” the tarp said. “But when I came out of my hole on Sunday, there he was, so near, so easy, so unsuspecting.
“I couldn’t help myself. I rolled onto his shoe and I lost control. Next thing I knew it was the ankle, the shin, the knee. I heard voices inside my head saying, ‘Go for the nose!’ I was mad! Mad! Ahhhahahhaha . . . “
The thing was coming unraveled. Everywhere. It rolled left, then right, then left again. A temper tarptrum.
It took 37 policemen to finally lift it and slide it into a converted moving van. “Watch your hands and feet,” the sergeant said, “it could still be dangerous.”
“What a life,” mumbled the tarp.
The squad cars were started. The sirens whirred. Justice would be served. Baseball would go on.
“Any last words?” a reporter hollered.
“Yeah,” grumbled the tarp, as the truck pulled out. “No offense, but I hope it rains all day.”