TAMPA – Tim Jarokee came home this weekend in time for his family to host a birthday night for his daughter and nine of her 10-year-old friends. They played games, and before it was over, it was covered in silly streaks.
But team operations manager Bucs has never been so happy to be back in Tampa. He was grateful for some normalcy after taking on the task of moving Bucs for four days to avoid the potential path of Hurricane Ian.
About 300 players, coaches, coaches, support staff, and their families — up to 28 dogs and rabbits — moved to a Biscayne Marriott Bay or indirect hotel for four days so the team could prepare for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.
The self-described “sky is dropping operations” man said he watches The Weather Channel from May through November. When Jaruki saw the tropical turmoil emanating from Venezuela, he sent emails to the Boss Hurricane Emergency Group.
“As it got closer, we started connecting it to (head coach) Todd (Bulls), (general manager) Jason (Licht) and (Chief Operations Officer) Brian Ford,” Jarocki said.
The Bucs had a similar experience when Hurricane Irma canceled their season opener against Miami in 2017 and the team was evacuated to Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Based on Irma at 17, we came up with a plan,” Jarocki said. “I knew at that point, a city in every time zone we could think of going to, depending on where you’re going and what part of the schedule you’re going to hit. Do we have a home game, away, or not?”
“Based on the track that was shown, I started looking at East Coast options as well as Central options. I was looking at Charlotte, back on the 17th. The first choice for a lot of teams is Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia.”
The good thing about the Greenbriar was that it had everything a Bucs needed – 120 rooms, two grass fields, a lawn field, a locker room, and meeting space.
But to fly large planes to the area, they would have to land in Richmond or Roanoke. The Dallas metro area was also an option with the Rangers old baseball stadium in Arlington, Texas.
When Hurricane Ian began tracking away from southern Florida, Miami became the better option.
How much will he travel? “I had close to 400 just because we were in the process of answering the call,” Jarocki said. “Who are you attending? Who are you evacuating? At the same time we were getting pets. Rabbits and horses.”
Wait, bunnies? Who had a rabbit?
Rookie goalkeeper Luke Goedeke has a three-year-old rabbit named Cletus.
The Bock chartered two planes to Miami International Airport on Tuesday. Some chose to drive. Everything was prepared within 24 hours.
But by Tuesday night, the rain-feeding bands had drenched Miami.
“The defensive conference room started leaking and we had a waterfall,” Jaruki said. “The hotel was under construction. Throughout the week we deal with them to renovate bedrooms, people’s kids try to sleep with jackhammers, and obviously the one conference room has water everywhere. Fortunately, she did not start to go down to the dining room.”
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Everyone adapt. “Tuesday night when we got there, it was more like a family atmosphere,” Jarocki said. “It was actually very relaxing to see the kids running.”
They have created a family room so that the children have a place to play and run.
It wasn’t perfect. Players had to walk through the main entrance. They wandered in and out of the hotel with helmets and cleats on.
In fact, because the game could have been moved to Denver or Minneapolis, they had to pack all their uniforms and gear.
They had to make contingency plans to get the families back to Tampa Bay if the game was to be played elsewhere. There was a flood deadlock on I-75 and it took 12 hours for the Bucs equipment truck to get home Saturday morning.
But the Bucs got three days of training at the Dolphins Training Complex.
Back in Tampa, they needed more hotel rooms in case people couldn’t go home.
“Honestly, we did our best to turn it into a road game,” Jaruki said. “Sometimes, you can tell it wasn’t.”
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