Often, the story isn’t on the field


Of course, now that so many are pandemic-weary and ready again to fill the stands at games, there will be those in-game stories filled with big moments for talented sports writers to write their accounts that fill our sports pages.

However, at any sports venue, there are also those other stories that can occur in the concourses and seats that surround the field of play. I thought of that several weeks ago when I heard the results of an investigation of a tragic story that occurred last baseball season at Petco Park in San Diego, one where a 40-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son fell to their deaths from a third-level concourse. The findings of the San Diego police are that the incident was a murder-suicide although the family of the deceased are disputing those findings.

The incident reminded me of another tragedy, this one purely accidental, that occurred during a baseball game back in 2008. At the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton attempted to provide a fan a souvenir and flipped a ball into the stands toward a 39-year-old father attending with his son. As the father reached for the ball, he lost his balance, toppled over the railing and fell to his death.

That incident was actually the second death at a Major League Baseball game that ‘08 season. In Denver at Coors Field, a 27-year-old man perished attempting to slide down a railing when he lost his balance and fell 20 feet, landing on his head.

Four years ago, I was just a few feet away from an incident that didn’t cause instant death but surely caused someone great bodily harm and possible long-term consequences while I was at Huntington Field in Columbus watching the Clippers play the Louisville Bats. While seated in the left field stands with Lady Jane, I tracked a line drive off the bat of a visiting Bat. As soon as the ball was struck, I knew it would reach the seats. Just once in my life, I’ve caught a ball at a pro baseball game and thought this might be my second.

However, within seconds of hearing the loud crack of the bat, I could see the ball was traveling with far too much speed to attempt a catch. A second or two later, the ball arrived, no more than three feet left of my end-of-aisle seat. How do I know it was no more than three feet? That’s because a man seated directly across the aisle sporting an orange Texas Longhorn cap was turning to his left talking to the person seated beside him when, thud, the ball ricocheted off the side of his head, buckling his knees and dropping him to the concrete. Paramedics were on the scene in seconds, bandaging his head and getting him in a wheelchair to escort him to an ambulance.

Of course, several years ago, because of the increase in fans being struck by batted balls, Major League Baseball had netting installed in all 30 stadiums down both foul lines. According to an NBC News investigation, there were more than 800 cases involving serious injury from spectators being hit by either balls or bats that slipped out of players’ hands between 2012 and 2019. However, the incident I witnessed actually occurred beyond the outfield. And, with that incident comes a cautionary tale. When you’re at a ballgame, always pay attention to what you paid to see.

Of course, sometimes the stories that play out at stadiums aren’t nearly as dire. One that certainly fit the burlesque category occurred back in 1988 and was witnessed by my lifetime pal, Mike Schepp, and me. Mike and I were seated in the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on a snowy December day, a week before Santa’s big day. We were seated in the most raucous section in the stadium, the stands behind the east end zone, known as The Dog Pound, while watching the newly arrived Don Strock, replacing an injured Bernie Kosar, lead a furious fourth-quarter rally to overcome the Houston Oilers, 28-23.

The Dog Pound in the now-razed Municipal in those days was quite a wild scene. On that gray 22-degree day with a wind chill of -8, there was the distinct smell of marijuana and quite a bit of flask tipping. Additionally, occasional skirmishes would break out between fans who’d over-served themselves and who just couldn’t quite agree on certain issues.

Mike and I had the last two seats on the aisle, about four rows up from the railing, and on three different occasions, the same younger fellow wearing a green-and-black checked coat who seemed to be coming out on the short end of some physical altercations came tumbling down the steps right past us. Each time, he’d pick himself up and march right back up the steps, yelling at his antagonist and, sure enough, before much time had elapsed, here he’d come again rolling by us.

Yes, indeed, while a lot of the stories at athletic events unfold on the game’s surface, there also are those stories —sometimes tragic, sometimes injurious and sometimes rather comical — that unfold surrounding the field of play.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

John Grindrod Guest columnist
John Grindrod Guest columnist