More bad pub for Oakland fans
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| By eyleenn on Sunday, May 29, 2005 - 12:21 pm:|
and baseball fans in general, from ESPN Insider:
Relievers, outfielders on the front line
By Jerry Crasnick
Phillies reliever Rheal Cormier just wanted to be a good dad when he invited his son to batting practice before an interleague game in Minnesota last June. Justin Cormier, 10, donned a No. 37 jersey and spent an hour shagging fly balls in the outfield and experiencing every Little Leaguer's fantasy.
It might have been a perfect day if not for the presence of several rowdy teenagers who screamed profanities at Justin from the outfield stands. This was not the type of background noise one typically associates with a father-son bonding moment.
"These kids were dropping [expletives] on Justin just because he was on the field and they wished they were," Cormier said. "I told him, 'This is part of what daddy does. It's what he has to live with.' "
The perks of being a major-league ballplayer are well-known. You fly on charters, stay in ritzy hotels, make millions of dollars and get all the free bubble gum you want. If it means being called to testify at a congressional steroid hearing every now and then, so be it.
But in too many instances these days, hostility reigns in the work place. If Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield isn't mingling with fans in the Fenway Park stands, Colorado's Matt Holliday is being grabbed by a bleacher creature as he retrieves a ball and tries to make a throw at Dodger Stadium. During a recent series in Oakland, New York first baseman Jason Giambi had a beer thrown at him while heading to the dugout, and Athletics outfielder Eric Byrnes latched onto a fan who had run onto the field and was trying to escape by scaling the wall.
"People don't have anything to lose when they attack us, but we have everything to lose if we attack back," Sheffield told Insider. "That's the thing that's frustrating for players, and I'm sure I speak for a lot of players."
Six weeks after a confrontation between Sheffield and a fan led to some scary moments at Fenway Park, the most intense rivalry in professional sports resumes with a three-game series between Boston and New York tonight at Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, recent headlines show that Sheffield isn't entirely correct in his assessment. Chris House, the fan who took a swipe at Sheffield the night of April 14, had his season tickets revoked by the Red Sox, and Eric Anduri, the fan who gave Giambi a barley-and-hops shower, was charged with misdemeanor battery Thursday.
Yet major-league players still regard themselves as targets, and they wonder if the punishments dispensed are enough to deter the next fan who wants to become part of the action. And it will happen again, they have no doubt.
"We're supposed to hold back, which can be tough sometimes," said St. Louis outfielder Larry Walker. "If you're working at a computer store and some guy comes in and grabs you while you're selling computers, you might be apt to hit him. It's a natural reaction."
Insider surveyed 15 major leaguers on the state of player-fan relations, and several seemed legitimately concerned about recent events. Some say they see a rise in drunkenness and abusive language, as more fans find it's not enough to simply go to the park and watch a game.
Phillies closer Billy Wagner certainly has reason to wonder. Wagner was with the Astros in 1995 when an intoxicated Chicago bond trader came out of the stands to charge Randy Myers on Wrigley's pitchers' mound, and he was in Milwaukee when a fan attacked Houston right fielder Bill Spiers four years later. Wagner figures another close encounter is less a question of "if" than "when."
"When is a guy going to come out there with a pocket knife and stab somebody?" Wagner said. "It's just a reflection of the atmosphere we live in."
While 15 players hardly constitute a scientific survey, several themes were recurrent in Insider's conversations with players. Players cited alcohol as a source of many problems, particularly in testosterone-laden males who try to look important by challenging ballplayers with little fear of repercussions.
"If security doesn't get to it early, it escalates as the game goes on, and people get drunk and they get more bold," said Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill. "Pretty soon it's not a very nice atmosphere to be around, either for us or the fans who are just there to watch a game."
Players generally cited fans in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and the Bay Area for being particularly tough on opposing players. Several players use the euphemism "passionate" to describe fans in large Eastern markets, while pointing out that some fans arrive at the park with the equivalent of road rage.
Oakland is earning a reputation as a bastion of bad player-fan relations. In 2003, a fan was charged with assault after throwing a cell phone from the second deck and hitting Texas outfielder Carl Everett in the back of the head. Last year, after a heated exchange in the bullpen, Rangers reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair into the stands and broke the nose of a fan. Francisco has been charged with misdemeanor assault, and two fans have filed lawsuits as a result of the incident.
Cincinnati's Sean Casey said the only time he ever felt unsafe at a park was last year in Oakland, when he was serving as the Reds' DH and made several forays past a gauntlet of fans on his way to and from the clubhouse.
"They were some of most hostile fans I've seen," Casey said. "I had to go about 30 feet to get past them and I had hands in my face and people were yelling some pretty rude stuff. It's almost like you're a WWF Wrestler. I didn't enjoy the whole environment, to be honest with you."
While Phoenix, Houston and Denver are among the cities praised for polite or congenial fans, no park compares to Busch Stadium in St. Louis when it comes to hospitality.
"St. Louis is the best," said Casey, who was among a half-dozen players to mention the city. "If you make a nice play, they cheer for you even if you're a visitor. When [Ken] Griffey hit his 500th home run there, the place was going nuts."
No players are on the firing line more than relief pitchers, who spend the entire game in a separate part of the park, where they often maintain a running dialogue with fans.
Many relievers say that new ballparks achieve the admirable goal of bringing fans close to the players, but that bullpen problems often arise as a result. In Baltimore, Texas, Seattle and other parks, fans are almost close enough to touch the players. And at San Diego's Petco Park and San Francisco's SBC Park, the visiting bullpens were essentially an afterthought, so pitchers are wedged in with no buffer when tensions escalate.
"There are so many parks where the people are on top of you," Quantrill said. "Baltimore has become absolutely brutal. Texas is brutal, and that used to be a pretty even-keeled place.
"Part of it is, fans have paid for a ticket, and if you're a visiting team and you're the Yankees, you expect there will be a little ragging and good humor. As long as it doesn't get carried away, you don't mind it. It's part of the job.
"But it's gone too far. You start to look around and say, 'Would I bring my kids to a game if they had to be around this all night?' Guys getting drunk in the bullpen and swearing and not getting kicked out? It's just become too much."
Quantrill has been hit by coins from fans who toss them from close distances without fear of detection, and he said fans in Baltimore routinely pour beer over the roof of the Yankees bullpen until it cascades over the front. As a native of Canada, Quantrill always considered the atmosphere in Toronto more serene and receptive to visitors. But he said even that has changed on his recent trips to the Rogers Centre.
While the atmosphere at bullpens in Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Oakland and other parks can get testy, relief pitchers say nothing comes close to the two-tiered pen at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where the local fans' legendary abusiveness has increased to a new level.
"As soon as you step out from your little hole in the wall, they're all over you," said Detroit's Kyle Farnsworth. "And it's very rare that you hear anything good from them."
The best place to find peace and solitude in the bullpen is in Houston, where the Astros have constructed a pen that's completely separate from the rest of game. The Yankees' Mike Stanton said it's the equivalent of sitting in a "cave."
After relievers, outfielders are the players most likely to be subject to taunts or abuse. Sheffield can recall being hit with coins in Philadelphia, and Walker said he is routinely pelted with verbal abuse no matter where he plays. "If you gave me a dictionary of swear words, I can't imagine that I haven't been called every one of them," Walker said. "That's pretty much the way it goes."
Yet most major leaguers distinguish between obnoxious drunks and hecklers with flair. In 17 National League seasons, Walker has developed a special admiration for fans at Wrigley Field.
"Chicago is always up for some nasty stuff," Walker said. "But they come up with some original stuff sometimes, and it's fun. They think they're ragging the hell out of me, but I'm standing there actually listening and thinking, 'Hey, that's a good one.' "
Even in places where fans aren't considered hostile, the combination of rampant enthusiasm and odd ballpark configurations can make for some hairy moments. St. Louis outfielder Reggie Sanders recalls venturing into the corner to retrieve a ball in Anaheim during the 2002 World Series and encountering fans who leaned over the low outfield fence and pelted him with plastic "ThunderStix."
While some observers have suggested erecting hockey-like, plexi-glass barriers in the outfield – or even removing the first row of seats where fans can lean onto the field – that prospect is remote. It would be an obvious revenue loser, especially in Fenway Park, where the Red Sox sell out every game. And even visiting outfielders, who realize it could have been them instead of Sheffield, don't necessarily favor the change.
"Fans are on top of you in Boston and they feel like they're a part of the game," said Detroit right fielder Craig Monroe. "That brings excitement and makes people want to come to the park and watch the game. I would never want to take that part away."
It's largely a question of perspective. Detroit first baseman Carlos Pena has played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where fights in the stands are common, personal items are routinely thrown onto the field, and the language from fans makes the cursing at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park seem like nursery rhymes.
When asked if fans in the Dominican bring weapons into the parks, Pena replied, "No – they try to check all the weapons at the door."
As a rule, ballplayers generally don't come to the ballpark expecting problems with fans. As the Yankees' Mike Stanton observes, that mind-set is counterproductive and likely to distract him from the business at hand.
"If somebody is going to get me in the back of the head with a bottle, me worrying about it beforehand isn't going to change anything," Stanton said.
these ballplayers need to look back to when they were in high school and think of all the kids they picked on, beat up, made fun of, stole their girlfriends or any other number of ways in which the jocks (at least in my school) mistreated other people and live with it.
And as far as Oakland being a bad place.
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