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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Angry Young Men

by Lisa Williams

Photo of a brawl among the players of a minor league baseball game

Angry Young Men

The problem with going to a ballgame with your toddler is that you don't always get to see what starts the bench-clearing brawl.

The North Shore Spirit were playing the visiting New Jersey Jackals, and the game was really over when Marichal hit Jackals outfielder Goodman with a wild -- or calculatedly wide? -- pitch.

The two teams massed in front of their dugouts. There was this weird hesitancy for a minute, like that awkward moment when you're trying to pass somebody in the aisle at the supermarket, but you both seem to dance right and left at the same time, and just can't move forward.

The spell holding them backllasted for an instant, and then snapped like a dry twig. Everybody blasted toward the mound, with the considerable speed young atheletes command. They ended up in a giant scrum of forty men that bobbled around the infield and got pushed towards the home team's dugout. Then the fight stopped, and everybody stood around hitching their shoulders, trying to shake off the tension, the black and white uniforms like salt and pepper poured together.

Somebody shook too hard, and one of the black uniforms rushed one of the white uniforms. It was Jay LaFlair, easily identifiable by his bright blond head; one of his teammates grabbed him around the waist and dragged him backwards as he continued to lunge forward.

When it was over, there was paperwork. Enough paperwork, in fact, to keep not one but two umpires busy writing up violation notices in their books, which looked like ticket books that metermaids have -- the kind with the stiff manila covers and the carbon paper. The coaches, Rich Gedman and X stood quietly, almost meekly, in that Yes, Officer, here's my license and registration kind of way.

Three players ended up getting ejected -- Scott Goodman, the Jersey batter, the Spirit's reliever Marichal, and Onix Mercado, the Spirit's catcher.

I figured that the brawl was the end of a truly spectacular bullpen flameout. The Spirit's starting pitcher, Dean, pitched only 1 1/3 innings -- and gave up nine runs. Nine!

(Nine runs!)

Dean was relieved by Marichal, whose wild pitch started the brawl. After Marichal was ejected, Tim Hart came in to pitch.

And hit the next batter, catcher Jay LaFlair, with the ball.

LaFlair just stood there with a You've Got To Be Shitting Me look on his face. A fan in the stands -- let's call him Mr. Creosote -- started heckling: "What is this, wrestling? This is outta control!"

The PA was silent. No play-by-play for half an inning. I thought, maybe that will help calm people down. The PA at Fraser is so loud that it seems designed to reach the fan who has taken out his hearing aids.

It was, by far, the rowdiest crowd I'd ever seen at a Spirit game. It wasn't particularly scary, though, because most of the rowdies weren't tall enough to ride the big rollercoasters at Six Flags. There was a Little League team from Revere -- the Diamondbacks, in their purple team t-shirts -- stomping on the metal risers every time the Spirit got up to bat, and each time the Spirit had a runner on base, they all wore their hats inside out as rally caps. The contest where fans got a pizza for being the loudest cheerers? They won. No contest, really.

DisSpirited, I thought, as the next batter after LaFlair, Zach Smithlin, hit the notch between first and second and the ball flew past one, two...three diving fielders, finally rolling unacompanied toward the right field wall.

Then the Diamondbacks started chanting: Let's go Spirit, let's go! Let's go Spirit, let's go! The team seemed to pause and shrug off the indignities the night had heaped on them. Sometimes all you have to fall back on is your professionalism. They didn't score, but they got into their positions and played like they meant it.

The next day, they came back and beat the Jackals three-zip.

By Lisa W. [http://www.cadence90.com/blogs/nixon.html]