June 15, 2004
Fan of the year nominee

You know, I attended many baseball games before ever catching a foul ball (the experience in Tokyo was my second time), but I was never ever tempted to act like this guy did.

ARLINGTON Four-year-old Nick O'Brien proved why baseball will always be a kid's game.

The Plano resident, who was watching his first major league game with his parents, Edie and Jeff, became the sympathetic figure of fans when he was pushed aside in the scramble for a foul ball at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on Sunday.

But the ugliness had a happy ending. Nick went home with two big league bats and four baseballs. Two of the items came personally from St. Louis outfielder Reggie Sanders.

"I felt in my heart I should do something," Sanders said. "You gotta remember, it's all about the kids. As a player, we're able to reach out more."

In the bottom of the third inning of St. Louis' 13-2 victory, an unidentified fan crushed Nick on a foul ball hit by Gary Matthews Jr. in a section near the St. Louis dugout.

Witnesses said the stockily built fan, who appeared to be in his 30s, jumped over his row into O'Brien's. He then pinned Nick against the seats with his legs and grabbed the ball.

Mom, dad and other fans weren't happy. Edie scolded the fan. Nick didn't appear to be hurt but was shaken up.

"I couldn't believe someone would do something like that to a 4-year-old boy," Edie said. "He wasn't friendly."

It didn't take long for fans to respond. Mike Hall of Fort Worth, about 10 rows behind the incident, stood up and shouted, "Give him the ball!" The chant mushroomed to nearby sections. Even Rangers announcer Tom Grieve voiced his disapproval on TV. But the fan refused and was booed.

Eventually, the distraction reached the Texas and St. Louis dugouts. Sanders, who saw what happened on TV, went to the section and called Nick and Edie down to the rail to give them a bat and ball. The Rangers also gave Nick a bat from outfielder Kevin Mench. By the next inning, Nick had three more baseballs.

Asked on television what he thought about the whole thing, Nick said, "Cool."

The offending fan and his female companion left the game after the fourth inning.

"He's had a rough time," Edie said of Nick. "I think he thinks this is what is supposed to happen at every game."

What a jerk. Too bad for him his picture appeared on the front page of the DMN website yesterday. I suspect he won't be unknown for long.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 15, 2004 to Baseball | TrackBack

I've been to maybe 20 games and have never caught a foul ball. Never had one come near me, even when I was able to get good seats (in other words, anywhere but PacBell Park). I'd be thrilled if one came my way, especially if it was off the bat of somebody I like.

Tim and I frequently grouse about the whole "if you throw a ball into the stands, it has to go to a kid" thing. It's not *all* about the kids, as Reggie Sanders said. Yes, it's great to see kids get a ball. I'm sure a lot of them go to sleep holding it or with the ball next to their pillow. But there are plenty of other fans in the stands at any given time who have never caught a ball, some of whom, undoubtedly, would be just as happy as the kid that ends up with it.

In this particular case, I think the guy was most definitely a jerk about it. Not because he refused to give up the ball but because he dove over the seats the way he did. That's inexcusable. Yes, people at ball games get focused on the ball coming at them and do stupid things, like reaching over the player trying to get the ball. And this is one of those stupid things. It took him long enough to get the ball that he should have come to his senses and realized he'd practically flattened the kid and backed off.

Posted by: Sue on June 15, 2004 8:33 AM

I agree with Sue here in that the fan was a jerk for diving over seats for the ball. While I've never caught a foul ball, my view it that unless it hits me (either on the fly or bounce), or makes my drop my drink / hot dog / ice cream, then I don't want to hurt myself going for a baseball. Personally, I just don't think it's worth the effort.

At Staten Island Yankees games, the PA announcer will advise a fan that caught a ball to give it to a kid unless it was a great catch. I have yet to see a fan that didn't do that.

Posted by: William Hughes on June 15, 2004 8:59 AM

At a Richmond Braves game, a line drive came screaming back towards my wife and a co-worker who were turned sideways talking to each other and oblivious to the baseball headed towards their heads. Fortunately, I put my hand in front of them and was able to stop the ball but not catch it.

The coworker's four year old duaghter picked up the ball, and danced around the rest of the night saying "I caught it. I caught it." She taunted me with the ball, while I nursed a hellacious bruise on my right hand. It's a good thing I like kids...I could have made the Richmond paper.

Posted by: Patrick on June 15, 2004 9:29 AM

My mom was telling me this story on the phone last night. The new story she saw showed an additional element that the print story you quote left out, which made me feel good about the upcoming generations of future leaders. Apparently after the crowd had booed this guy, and the 4 year old was crying, two boys (my mom said they looked about 10 years old) came up to the 4 year old and offered him the foul balls they had already caught. It's nice to know that, as often as we hear the phrase, "kids these days," that sometimes kids are far wiser than the adults around them. Gives me hope for the future.

Of course, it makes me wonder why those 10 year old boys weren't given some special treatment as well to positively reinforce their kind, generous behavior. But perhaps they had already faded into the background.

My mom said the best part about the video in the story she saw was watching the guy who caught the ball stand up, put his hand in the air, and wait for the customary cheering that happens when someone catches a ball. She said the look of surprise on his face when the crowd started booing was priceless.

Posted by: Amy on June 15, 2004 1:25 PM

anyone have a link to video of this?

Posted by: greg on June 16, 2004 10:36 AM

You can find video of it here.

Posted by: ttrentham on June 17, 2004 9:40 AM

I hope more people get to see the actual video evidence of the situation before making their conclusions.

Matt Starr fell across the seats, and in the process accidentally knocked Nick O'Brien (No one can tell me he did it with INTENT!!) And as he was on the ground, Nick's mother was hitting him with her program and swearing at him. Ask yourself: Would you give the kid the ball after taking that abuse from his mother?? Probably not.

We have seen it THOUSANDS of times in blooper reels, fans jumping over seats, or railings to get foul balls, and we laugh about it every time! But this guy does it at the wrong time, and now his life is RUINED! And all so that the O'Briens can milk it for some national attention, and the media can milk it for a story!

Matt Starr, in my view you are a true fan of the game, and I salute you. And if MLB is all about the kids...then let THEM pay for the tickets!!

Posted by: Andy McAuley on July 12, 2004 2:28 AM