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Opinion

Violent baseball fans are an outrage

| Monday, April 21, 2003

Baseball - America's Pastime - has already been damaged by obscenely high player salaries, which in turn have led to even more obscenely high ticket prices, making it almost necessary for a family to take out a bank loan to spend a day at the ballyard.

Baseball - indeed all of professional sport - has impacted an entire generation of taxpayers, who are continually held up by team owners demanding money for luxurious new stadiums, which in turn serve only to line the pockets of the already wealthy owners, players and members of team management.

Still, millions of baseball fans are willing to look past all that, coming to stadiums in droves and biting down hard as they fork over a day's wages for a couple tickets, hot dogs and drinks and maybe a souvenir or two.

For what they pay to get into the ballpark, fans deserve to be able to enjoy the two or three hours they spend there. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case in at least two occasions at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

In the last seven months, at two different games, fans have come from the stands onto the playing field, attacking a visiting team's coach (last year) and an umpire (earlier this week).

The irony here is that the good time thousands of fans had hoped for was spoiled by ... fellow fans.

Major League Baseball executives say they are investigating the latest incident and are talking tough about clamping down on fans who become unruly at the ballpark. Sandy Alderson, vice president of baseball operations, said Major league Baseball will "spare no expense" in eliminating fan violence.

"We will do whatever is necessary to maximize the consequences for those individuals who intrude on the field or assault or make any attempt to interact the umpires, players, coaches or fans in the stands," Alderson said.

We hope so. The biggest reason to stop the two aforementioned isolated incidents from becoming a trend is to protect everyone in the ballpark. Sept. 11 has already forced teams to step up security at ticket gates. But that won't keep a determined "fan" from running onto the field and going after someone if the fancy strikes him.

Sadly, baseball will have to take even greater steps to ensure fan, player, coach and umpire safety. Certainly increasing security personnel in the stands and on the edge of the field. But that will cost money, and bottom line-conscious owners will likely have to raise ticket prices even more to cover the cost. What is needed most is a clear message to those fans who would go out onto the field - whether to attempt to harm another person or achieve his 10 seconds of fame. Fans need to know such behavior won't be tolerated and those who engage in it will be punished severely. Jail time and heavy fines should be handed down.

Personal safety isn't the only thing being compromised by fans' unruly behavior. Also lost is the simple enjoyment of going to the ballpark. Police officers and security guards standing on the field's edge, scanning the stands surely detract from the comforting confines of the stadium. Other steps teams may take to improve security, however drastic they may seem, would also take away from fans' enjoyment of the game.

"It would be a shame if we had to do what they do in Japan, where everybody is screened in" from the field, Mets manager Art Howe commented.

A shame indeed. We can only hope it doesn't come to that.

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