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Hockey match breaks out at baseball game

by Ogi Overman

They – “they” being the ubiquitous purveyors of all things wise, inspirational and/or universal – say that no matter how many ballgames you see, you’ll never see it all, that one day something will happen that you’ve never, ever seen before. That’s one of the beauties of the game of baseball, one of the reasons that it continues to capture our collective imagination. As Red Smith said, people who think baseball is a dull game have dull minds, that each game is a different drama.

But Smith, in my humble opinion the greatest sportswriter who ever lived, could not possibly have been referring to the drama that greeted local patrons of the Grasshoppers games last Thursday and Friday. I dare say, of the combined 16,000 fans who clicked the First Horizon Park turnstiles, nary a one had ever glimpsed anything quite like the events that unfolded those evenings. I know I haven’t, and I’ve probably seen more ballgames than 98 percent of the folks there. As the Hornets/Bats primary official scorer from 1990 through 2001 and a backup ever since; plus all the high school, Pony, Colt, Palomino, American Legion and minor-league games I’ve covered for various publications; and counting the thousands of major league games on TV, dating back to Dizzy Dean (“Pass me one o’ them nice cool Falstaffs over here, pahdnuh”) and Buddy Blatner, I’ve seen a few.

But never anything like the back-to-back slugfests that took place on the fields of not-so friendly strife last week. Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of brawls – including a near-fight in the press box back in the early-’90s that has become the stuff of legend – but this one surpassed anything I’ve ever witnessed. Some fights actually serve a purpose; these didn’t.

Thursday’s travesty actually began Tuesday on the road in Kannapolis, when Grasshopper reliever Blake Jones plunked a hitter in a situation that was clearly not one that called for a brushback or a “purpose pitch.” He was trying to protect a lead and to put a man on base would’ve been moronic. The pitch simply got away from him. But two nights later, when the same two clubs met in Greensboro, the Intimidators felt they needed to live up to their name, I suppose, so their hurler hit the batter who occupied the same spot in the lineup as their guy who’d gotten beaned.

Now, once that bit of housecleaning was accomplished the slate should have been wiped clean. According to the century-old baseball etiquette, you hit my guy, I hit your guy, then we’re even and we go back to playing baseball. Tit for tat. The hitter, Logan Morrison, made a gesture to the mound and some pleasantries were exchanged, but then, again following the rules of etiquette, he trotted on down to first base.

But then his next time up the Kannapolis pitcher committed the cardinal sin by nailing him again. Then it was on. By violating the unspoken rule, they gave the Grasshoppers no choice but to retaliate. They retaliated on the mound, by first base, by third base, by second base, by the foul lines and in the outfield. And they weren’t pulling jerseys and tackling each other, they were swinging with the intent to cause harm about the face and body. Eyes were blackened, teeth were loosened, ribs were cracked, welts and bruises appeared.

Then it got really bizarre. After order was restored and the league president summoned by phone, the decision was made to reinstate the ejected players so that enough bodies could be found to continue the game. But the stipulation was that everyone not hitting, on base, on deck or playing defense, had to remain in the clubhouse as the cops stood vigil outside the doors. Club personnel summoned each player as his time at bat approached and as the inning ended. Empty dugouts, empty bullpen. A home run was hit and no one was there to congratulate the guy. He must have felt like Barry Bonds.

The following night, the sold-out season-ender, was supposed to be a celebration of a record-breaking summer, a league MVP in John Raynor, a club executive of the year for the third time in Donald Moore and a fireworks grand finale. With commissioner for life John Henry Moss in attendance, this would surely be a routine affair leading up to the post-game awards and speeches.

Nope, wrong again. In the third inning a Kannapolis player slid in high and hard on a 4-6-3 double-play ball, and when I looked back over there our middle infielders were both pummeling the kid. Naturally, both benches emptied again and the resulting scrum spawned several more knock-down drag-outs.

The one class act that seemed to go unnoticed in all this was that Logan Morrison got hit yet again his next time up and chose not to charge the mound. Of course, the pitcher got tossed but no further fisticuffs ensued.

Perhaps they should just take a hint from hockey and let two designated goons duke it out while everyone else stands around. Now that’s etiquette.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.

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