Monday, November 22, 2004

They’re Playing Bas-ket-BRAWL!!

Ok, let me just say that the brawl between Indiana and Detroit (and their fans) was the most fucking phenomenal thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Me and the boys were watching the game Friday night when it happened.

We saw the foul (which, incidentally, Big Ben Wallace overreacted to). What happened next totally blew us away. While Ron Artest (who seems to be a lightning rod for these situations) was lying on the scorer’s table, trying to stay out of the fracas, a fan threw a whole cup of beer on him from point blank range. From there, things deteriorated rapidly. I’m sure most of you have seen the video a hundred times by now, so I won’t rehash it. Let me just say that the ensuing five minutes was the most thoroughly engrossing television that I have watched in ages. The boys and I couldn’t look away. It was like a train wreck meeting a mass murder meeting a mass suicide meeting the Adult Video Entertainment Awards. Everywhere you looked, it was complete mayhem. You had Artest rushing the stands and taking down the wrong guy. You had Stephen Jackson right behind him acting like a thug, throwing haymakers left and right (even landing a few good ones). You had Jermaine O’Neal also thugging it up and decking a rolly-polyish dude that was still reeling from catching an Artest right cross to the jaw. That dude probably spent today picking out a new Porsche and is planning on touring Auburn Hills in search of a dwelling upgrade later this week. I’d gladly take a couple shots to the grill for a couple mil. No question about it. Artest is a bitch, pure and simple. As is Jackson. I noticed at the time that neither one of them wanted to get in Ben Wallace’s face after he shoved Artest. Smart move on their parts. However, when a skinny little white dude hit him with the beer, he had no problem chasing him up into the stands. I’d be inclined to say that Jermaine is bitch-like as well, but he never went into the stands, and only attacked the people who were on the court. Jermaine isn’t bitch-like, but rather bitch-ish.

The result of this melee? Artest is gone for the season without pay (73 games). Stephen Jackson is gone for 30 games without pay. O’Neal is gone for 25 games without pay. Wallace is gone for 6 games without pay. An assortment of players have been suspended for one game each as well. I’m sure that most everyone that was in the house that night have all consulted attorneys trying to figure out how to cash in on this brawl as well.

Being an athlete myself, I tried to put myself in the players’ position. I tried to figure out when an athlete is justified in going into the stands and attacking a fan. I couldn’t figure out an appropriate scenario. If a fan throws a beer on you, have his ass arrested. Is another spectator hurling racial epitaphs in your direction? Notify security, especially if the security guard is of the same race as you. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to escort the offending fan out.

Also, thinking back over my 32 years as an "athlete" of sorts, I can attest that I’ve only been in one brawl on a ballfield. I can also honestly state that I didn’t start the brawl, but I had my hand in escalating the situation. Yes, I know you are utterly shocked to hear that, being as how I’m so mild-mannered and all.

I was 23 years old (holy shit, was that REALLY 13 years ago?!?) and playing with a Class A Men’s Fastpitch team called the Osceola Athletics (Kissimmee, Florida). We had just won a National Championship two months earlier, so naturally not only were we feeling invincible, but every team in the area was gunning to beat us every time we played. Bragging rights among us frustrated high school athletes be damned. It was an early game (I want to say 6:00 on a Thursday evening - for some reason that sticks in my head). There was this team called Team Hispanic. They had a decent squad, but we’d beat them every single time we played them. I absolutely owned their pitcher. I probably hit .600 off this guy, which in fastpitch is ownership, plain and simple. I played shortstop for this team, was young, cocky and blessed with a tremendous throwing arm, not to mention devilishly good looks and being hung like a bear. I rarely made errors. I’m one of those guys that the madder I get, the better I play.

Anyhow, getting back to the game, I must not have worked that day because I remember being extraordinarily tired that night. I was probably off from school as well and just lazed around the house all day. That was my usual M.O. on my days off. The first batter of the game hit a two-hop ground ball to my left. I took two steps, bent down and had it kick off the heel of my glove for an error. Being that they knew that I was one of the few players that got paid to play for this team, they started chattering at me from the dugout. "Nice play, JP." "I can see why you play short for theeesss team." "Thass money well spent there." Etc., etc., ad infinitum. Ok, no biggie, I’m still asleep. Pretty relaxed. We get out of that inning unscathed. I come up in the bottom of the first with nobody on and two out (I hit 3rd in the order). Still asleep, but wanting to atone for my miscue in the field, I swung wildly at the first two pitches and then got rung up on a close third pitch for a strikeout. More chatter. Still asleep, I took my glove out to the field to play the second inning. Well, they unloaded against our pitcher (who was our third best pitcher on the roster) during this inning. When all was said and done, it was 5-0 and was probably the first time they’ve ever been ahead against us.

We sleepwalk through the bottom of the second inning getting a walk and a hit, but scoring no runs. The top of the third inning comes around (I’m starting to wake up, but am still on auto-pilot) and the first hitter hits a one hop smash to my right. I dive, glove it, hop up and, remember that great throwing arm I mentioned, well, I throw it waaaayyyyyyy over the first baseman’s head out into the parking lot for a two base error. Guess what? They start chattering again. First of all, nobody in the Orlando area would have even gotten to that ball. Second of all, all they were doing was waking me up. Big mistake. Huge. So, being the cocky 23 year old I am, I start chattering back. I’m saying stuff like "You better shut up. Don’t wake me up. You’re making a huge mistake here," along with one of my favorites, "I’ve beaten better teams than you all by myself." I can't imagine why they didn't like me. The next guy pops out and our pitcher walks the batter after him, putting runners on first and second with one out. The next batter hits a one-hop ground ball to our second baseman. He flips to me, I take the ball at second, touch the base, get waaaaayyyy out of the baseline, throw to first and turn the double play. However, after I released the ball, the runner from first goes out of his way to slide into me and take me out. I tried to jump over him, but he popped up and undercut me, sending me sprawling onto the infield dirt. Ok, that’s fine, I play short, I can handle being taken out, goes with the territory. However, IT’S ON NOW, MOTHER FUCKERS!!

Bottom of the third inning, we load the bases with one out and up I come. It’s still 5-0. With the count 2-2, I absolutely crush the next pitch down the left field line, but it goes foul. The very next pitch, the pitcher throws at my head. Not anywhere near the plate. At.My.Head. I go flying out of the way, get up and tell him, you better make sure this next pitch isn’t anywhere near the plate. You better pray that you walk me. The count is now 3-2, and since he doesn't want to walk in a run, he throws me a pitch right down the middle that I hit into the next county for a grand slam. Now it’s 5-4. However, they’re still jawing at me all the way around the bases. I’m telling them, can’t you see that you’re only making me play better? Don’t you think you should shut the fuck up? No dice.

We end up not scoring another run that inning. Going into the fourth, it’s 5-4 them. Their leadoff hitter hits a double to start the inning off. The very next hitter grounds to second base, sending the runner on second to third. After we got the out at first, our first baseman threw to third, where the runner had strayed a little too far from the base. Now we have him in a rundown. Our third baseman (who was my brother-in-law at the time) runs him toward home and then flips to the catcher. I fill in where he was. As the catcher runs him back toward third, he flips the ball to me. As I catch the ball and go to tag him, the son of a bitch elbows me in my mouth. Didn’t even try to hide it. Well, that was it. As soon as I regained my bearings, I rushed his ass and knocked him to the ground. I was on top, but I was also right near their dugout. After almost all of their players jumped on me, we had a huge scrum for about five minutes, no punches being able to be thrown or landed. Too many people on top of me. My teammates had my back, but really weren’t much help as I was pinned under half their team. I ended up with a black eye, a cut lip and bruised hand (I think I was knocked into a fence post somewhere along the line).

The police were called. The game was forfeited by both teams. After all was said and done, I was suspended for the remainder of the season (8 games) and their whole team was kicked out of the league in Kissimmee for life.

All in all, I’d call getting into a sports related melee an overrated experience. I hope never to be involved in one again....but you never know, especially when you’re as competitive as I am.

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