I have put off writing about this because there are rare, scary, and traumatic moments in sports. Look no further then the recent Humboldt tragedy. I don’t want to piggyback on that, or take light away from the many, many, many impactful fundraising initiatives that have brought Canadians together. Sadly, I mentioned a tragedy like this was one of the things that used to keep me up at night. But there are also moments inside a ballpark that are violent and unplanned, where someone’s life is in danger in front of thousands of people. Staff members have to react quickly and calmly, which is not easy at all.
I will preface this by saying I have spent my entire life deliberately NOT working in important fields. I have friends who are teachers, brain surgeons, police officers, first responders, nurses, charity directors, and the like. Those are important and valuable roles in a community. Those people genuinely make the world a better place, and allow people like me to worry about life’s smaller things.
That being said, accidents can and do happen in a ballpark, and they often happen fast. Some are tragic, very well documented, and force worldwide stadium improvements. If this article does nothing but make you want to high-five an usher or buy water for the First-Aid people, though, it will be a success.
Here are the three worst incidents I have seen in a minor-league stadium.
Elderly Fan Passed Out
It was a very hot mid-afternoon getaway game in mid-July. The place was full. Afternoon games usually have an array of kids camps and elderly groups, which is great for business.
Teams always want the pace of the game to move quickly when it’s sunny, so that fans aren’t in the sun for too long. The team is not worried about the 99 percent of fans who control their alcohol, wear sunscreen, and are there for a good time. They are worried about the 1 percent who didn’t eat breakfast, haven’t spent time in the sun for days, and maybe had a drink beforehand. They also worry about the kids and elderly fans because the sun sneaks up on them, and because they don’t always know how to act, or cannot act for themselves. Ushers walk around with spray bottles of water to help keep fans cool, but also to keep an eye on fans that don’t look well.
One elderly group was sitting directly in the sun from the first inning on. As the game wore on, many left (which is not uncommon), leaving just two people remaining after the seventh inning. Per their story afterwards, one of them got up to go to the bathroom, and then the last remaining person just fell over and passed out. It took a few seconds for fans to react, but they soon began screaming for the ushers.
This elderly man was lying horizontal on a few seats, completely passed out, not moving and sweating profusely. The medics began CPR and physically cooling him down with ice and water. We feared the worst. He had been in the sun too long, but he didn’t realize before it was too late.
The medics were excellent, and brought him via stretcher to an air-conditioned room in the stadium. Once he came to, he began laughing, had a few sips of water, and his friend drove him back to their nursing home — not before he went to the box office and bought tickets to the next afternoon game. After all, that game was on the same day as his 97th birthday. Needless to say, he got seats in the shade, and we brought him some cupcakes to help him celebrate.
When I was an intern, the only games that sold out were our six fireworks shows, mostly because we had a radio and TV station that sponsored and promoted them all summer. This particular fireworks night was warm and muggy, and the game was slow. Long games mean that fans have more time to drink. Weekend night games mean fans can drink beforehand during the day in their backyard, at the park, on a patio, or anywhere else. Add that to a sold out crowd of 8,100, and what you get is not the best combination for fan experience and safety.
I was working in a suite finishing up a very busy food service when all of a sudden our GM yelled over the internal radios: “EVERYBOY TO THE FIRST BASE SIDE RIGHT NOW, IT’S AN EMERGENCY.”
Here is what happened, per the police report: There was a stag party in the stands and their members were very drunk. One guy gave his beer to his buddy and said “hold this, I am going to go punch a guy.” He walked down ten rows, right up to a random fan sitting with his wife, and punched the defenseless fan right in the face. The latter never saw it coming, nor did he say anything to instigate it.
The fan was knocked unconscious on impact. People around him began to scream. Ushers did an admirable job clearing the stands as this fan lay motionless. This was my first time seeing medics run full speed, and they took the fan to the clubhouse away from people. We had a full-blown issue on our hands. Even a few members of the coaching staff and players in the dugout turned around because they heard the commotion.
Our Assistant GM was a former minor league hockey player, so he ran over, picked up the puncher like a child and carried him out. If there was one image from this night that remained with me, it was this: A fan that could barely stand, about to be arrested, probably with no recollection of what he did, forced in a corner near a huge bathroom lineup, slurring his words as our AGM held him up so the cops could take over.
The police backup arrived at the stadium within minutes, and our stadium looked like (and actually was) a crime scene. There were three police cars with their siren lights on, two entire sections cleared out, all with a baseball game in the background. We even saw a news or police helicopter overhead. The entire stag party was escorted out of the stands to a chorus of boos from the crowd, and it sounded and looked like the bad guys leaving a wrestling match. The police took over the inside of our stadium to formally question everybody.
The fans that were asked to vacate their seats watched the fireworks show while standing in walkways, and were given complimentary tickets to the next fireworks show. This was the first time I left a game without knowing the final score. I vaguely remember how the legal aspect turned out, but I think the assaulter got out on bail, and the fan who got punched ended up settling a civil suit with the city.
The next day our GM smartly gathered our ushers and staff to let them know what to do if such an incident happened again. I have never seen anything like this since. We began keeping visible police and security outside of our stadium at every game, ensuring that drunk or belligerent fans did not enter the stadium in the first place, and small issues inside the stadium were nipped in the bud so they couldn’t snowball into larger ones.
Getting Hit By A Foul Ball
I previously touched upon this, but it cannot be overstated: It is still the worst sound I have ever heard, and I have been in car accidents.
A young family was sitting right over the first-base dugout for a night game, and the sun was setting right in their eyes. A right-handed batter was late on a fastball and fouled it off right at them, and because the sun was in his eyes, it didn’t matter that the eight year-old had his glove. The ball hit him squarely in the head, and he never saw it coming.
The crowd gasped at the sound. The kid was unconscious and the parents were hysterically crying. Thankfully, the numerous and excellent medical staff on site helped the kid recover. His parents were stunned but surprisingly in good spirits and not combative. We brought him to the clubhouse before a game later that season and he got autographs and pictures from all the players, and even threw out the first pitch of the game.
Through these frightening experiences, I was able to fully prepare for things that could go wrong, and think of how to prevent them moving forward. I am thankful for great first-aid and first responders and great staff — and for the fact that social media and camera phones didn’t exist during each of these incidents.