By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
Tripp Gibson was on the treadmill at his home near Seattle, having a solid workout before heading to a holiday party with his wife.
To pass the time Friday afternoon, the Major League Baseball umpire was on the phone with Dad, just to catch up in his hometown.
His hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky.
Suddenly, as his father spoke, Gibson heard a tornado warning siren go off in the background. It was a familiar sound from his childhood – as a child he once saw a small tornado leap over his yard.
“It’s probably nothing, right?” Father and son were included.
Three hours later, Gibson receives an urgent message from his sister: Tornado knocks, dad takes cover in the bathroom.
Luckily for Gibson, no one in his immediate family was injured in the storms that devastated the city of about 10,000 residents in and around the southwestern corner of the state.
On Saturday, after a Seattle-Atlanta-Nashville flight and two hour drive, Gibson was back in the city where he had spent most of his life.
“It’s indescribable,” he told The Associated Press on Monday from Mayfield. “You think of the movie ‘Twister’ and it’s nothing compared to what we have here.”
“All the people injured, displaced, maybe dead,” he said. “There are no words.”
At least eight people working in a candle factory in Mayfield have been killed, and all local residents have yet to be identified. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said Monday that at least 74 people have died statewide.
Determining where things were at Mayfield is next to impossible, said Gibson, 40.
“I go down roads that I have taken thousands of times and there is nothing there,” he said. “You don’t even know where you are.
“The places you marked as a child, they have disappeared. There are no road signs. I don’t even know where 6th Street, 7th Street and 8th Street are, ”he said.
At one point, his late grandfather owned almost all of the land around Courthouse Square.
“I spent a summer painting every building myself there, on three levels of scaffolding. I knew every inch of downtown, ”he said. “Now it’s hard to see. “
As a child, Gibson remembered Bruce Willis coming to town to shoot “In Country”, a 1989 film based on a novel by Bobbie Ann Mason from Mayfield. Willis enjoyed spending time with Gibson’s dad, Hoot, and some scenes were filmed on the homestead – Willis and his then-pregnant wife, Demi Moore, took a photo with young Tripp.
Gibson’s father and mother-in-law, Marietta, live about two-tenths of a mile from downtown Mayfield. They took refuge at a friend’s house nearby when the tornado struck.
The family owns 100 homes in the Mayfield area, a business his grandfather, a US Navy veteran, started in 1949 to partially help returning servicemen. Gibson said he and his father visited about 25 of the homes on Monday.
“There are so many survival stories,” Gibson said.
Gibson attended Graves County High School and graduated from Murray State before becoming a professional referee in 2006. He worked his first MLB game in 2013, joined the full-time staff in 2015 and was part of the team for this year’s National League Championship Series between Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Many current MLB referees have Kentucky roots, including Sam Holbrook, Greg Gibson, Larry Vanover, Jerry Layne, and Paul Nauert.
Umps Care Charities, formed by MLB referees, is setting up a fund to help those affected in the area, Gibson said. Several other organizations are contributing to the effort, and monetary donations for the Mayfield Graves County Tornado Relief Fund are collected by Independence Bank in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.
After Tripp Gibson landed in Nashville, he met his fellow referee DJ Reyburn on his way to Mayfield, stopping en route at a Lowe’s to collect supplies.
“I’m just here to help,” Gibson said. “We have our hands full. “
Gibson said he plans to stay at Mayfield for a week and then return after Christmas.
“I can go back to Washington, to my wife and two boys, I’m lucky,” he said. “The people here in Mayfield, I think of them.”
The shock of what he saw will stay with him.
“I was worried that I was having an emotional type of depression. I don’t think I was able to process him fully emotionally, ”he said. “I don’t have time for this now.”
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