You've heard about it. You've read about it. Now see it at a theater near you. You can run, but you can't hide from, "The Tarp That Ate Vince Coleman!"

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the ball field.

DAAAAAH-duh. DAAAAAH-duh. Doop-doom-doop-doom-doop-doom!

Consider one Vincent Maurice Coleman, 25 years old from Jacksonville, Fla., a leading candidate for rookie of the year, a man of considerable skill on the baseball diamond.

He could hit and he could field, but most of all, Mr. Coleman could run. As fast as the wind, they said, but obviously not as fast as he had to one fall afternoon.

The dateline said St. Louis (de-de-de-de, de-de-de-de), but we know he was taking a big lead in . . . The Twilight Zone.

"I was just turning around," gasped Terry Pendleton, who watched the whole grisly scene. "I heard this scream, and the thing swallowed him up!"

The thing!

A 180-foot, 1,200-pound mechanized tarpaulin!!

Gone completely BERSERK!!!

(Better pray you find it before it finds you.)

"It was scary," gasped Dodger Steve Yeager, who watched the whole ghastly scene.

"He was able to get his right foot out of the way," gasped Cardinal Mike Jorgensen, who watched the whole ghoulish scene, "but it caught his left foot!"

"About seven or eight teammates came over to pull him out," gasped Howard Hughett, the Dodgers' batboy who watched the whole gruesome scene. "He was all curled up underneath it, screaming!"

Aaarrrooouggghhh!

"Ozzie Smith and the other Cardinals were screaming louder than Coleman," gasped Walt Williamson, a TV cameraman who watched the whole gory scene. "They were yelling, 'Get it back! Roll it off!' "

(Head 'em up, move 'em out, Raw-hide!)

Vince Coleman.

A nice, quiet man, the neighbors said. They used to watch him on weekends, mowing his lawn.

"He was a nice, quiet man," said Irma Taylor, one of Coleman's neighbors. "I used to watch him mow his lawn on weekends. He seemed so spirited, so full of life. He could run like the wind, you know, yes sir, like the wind. But no man alive can outrun a mechanized tarpaulin gone completely berserk. Fred, my late husband, he couldn't -- that's why he's my late husband -- and Fred was faster than Vince Coleman. Hit better, too, a lot more power."

Why Vince?

"The way these mechanized tarps work, it could be any number of reasons," said Prof. Roger McDweeb, a tarpologist at the University of Missouri-Rolla. "Mr. Coleman had his back turned, so he didn't see the tarpaulin's progress. The new models are virtually silent, yet they can reach cruising speed -- roughly the same velocity as a mature goat -- in less than six seconds. Plus, they are what we call 'environmentally redundant,' which means they blend in with their surroundings to assure maximum stealth, a feature that military procurers find particularly attractive. Today's tarp is a highly technological, multipurpose, energy-efficient product. Believe me, it sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake.

"In the matter of Mr. Coleman, we are currently considering two hypotheses we think reasonable to explain how this happened. One is that Mr. Coleman was wearing a cologne that, coincidentally, was sexually attractive to the tarpaulin. The other is that the member of the grounds crew who activated the tarpaulin is a second cousin of Tommy Lasorda on his wife's side. There is also a less scientific explanation, that Mr. Coleman is just ridiculously unlucky."

(Special correspondent Jamie Doak reported late last night that Coleman is planning to file a $500 million damage suit, charging Cardinals' owner August Busch with negligence. Coleman's lawyer, R.X. Claridge, said he would consider settling out of court if Busch came up with an equitable proposal, adding, "How does the name Anheuser-Coleman sound to you?")

We've all seen freak accidents before. You'd need a calculator to total up all the pro golfers and tennis players who've pulled ligaments trying on free clothing or getting into their courtesy cars. But what happened to Coleman reminds me of possibly the worst such injury ever suffered in pro sports, and I am speaking, of course, of what happened to Jacques Mimieux, the plucky little defenseman with the Kansas City Scouts in 1976.

Mimieux, who was grotesquely overweight after spending the offseason as a pastry chef, came out between periods in a game against the California Golden Seals, to get some extra work. As he skated faster and faster the crowd began to cheer until the appreciative applause for Mimieux was deafening, so much so that Mimieux never heard the Zamboni machine as it came steadily nearer. Then, disaster struck.

"Jacques had been skating clockwise, and I expected him to continue to do so," Dale (The Iceman) Skorich, the star-crossed Zamboni driver, wrote in his autobiography, "Guilty, With An Explanation." But Mimieux suddenly and, as it turned out, tragically reversed his direction. "I couldn't stop the Zamboni," Skorich wrote. "The last thing I saw was that big roller going right up poor Jacques' back, and a few seconds later he was squashed so flat you could pick him up with a spatula. A bad break for Jacques, sure. On the other hand, this is one tough machine, eh?"