Seles incident brings awareness to playing fields

Bill Tanton

May 04, 1993|By Bill Tanton

I still remember the sincerity in the Oriole player's voice as he confessed a personal fear on a team bus in New York.

"Sometimes I'm out there on the field," he said timorously, "and I think about what can happen to you when you're exposed like that. All it takes is one nut in the stands. He can shoot you right there. There's nothing to stop him."

"Aw, you're worried about nothing," I assured the rookie, who had grown up in Austin, Texas. "The fans love you guys."

This was not one of the present Orioles speaking. This was no product of the current age of violence.

This was Don Baylor, and the year was 1970. Baylor today is the manager of the Colorado Rockies.

I was reminded of his long-ago words the other day when Monica Seles was stabbed while sitting in a chair at courtside between games of a tennis match in Hamburg, Germany.

I realize now: Don Baylor was right; I was wrong.

The message people from this horrible incident is that no one is safe. Not tennis players. Not baseball players. Not presidents. Nobody.

Twenty-three years ago a young Don Baylor sensed the athlete's vulnerability, and last week we were all reminded of it.

What do we do about it?

Do we put moats around athletic fields to keep spectators apart from the participants, as they do in some foreign countries?

Do we do what Italian Open officials are doing this week and station more than 100 uniformed security guards at the Foro Italico?

We do neither, of course.

Ours is not a military state. Americans don't want their athletic venues turned into armed camps. Sports events are too numerous for us to consider militarizing every ballpark, stadium and arena.

Upsetting as the attack on Monica Seles is, I agree with Martina Navratilova.

2 "I don't think this is going to happen again," said Martina. "It was an isolated incident. We're lucky that Monica is OK."

Baltimore's Pam Shriver has just returned home from a month-long journey to Tokyo, Australia, London and St. Louis. Naturally she, being a tennis player, is concerned.

"People are asking me if I'm going to be worried the next time I walk out on a court," Shriver said yesterday.

"You can't live in fear. We have security at every tournament, but a thing like this can happen so quickly. This will raise the level of awareness. Individuals will be looking out.

"There's never been an incident like this, not in tennis or any other sport, where an athlete was attacked while in the middle of competition. If there's a second incident, people are really going to be uneasy."

The man who attacked Seles is a mentally disturbed, 38-year-old German who wanted his fellow German, Steffi Graf, the No. 2 player in the world, to be No. 1. So he stabbed the No. 1 player, Seles, in the back.

Even in these bizarre times, that's far out.

The man hurt Graf, too, of course. Distracted, she held serve only three times and lost in the finals at Hamburg Sunday to Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, 6-3, 6-3. Graf had won this tournament six straight years.

"I'm worried that this will hurt Monica's career," Shriver said. "The best part of her game is her head. She can be so mentally tough.

"You have to wonder how this will affect her now. It would be a shame if this hurts her when she's at the peak of her career.

"Graf could be hurt by this, too. I can understand how Sanchez Vicario was able to win the tournament. She's as tough as they come."

Seles, who could have been killed in the attack, received only a half-inch muscle cut. She'll recover -- physically. We'll have to wait and see about the mental part.

Seles and Graf have never been close, but when Graf visited Monica in the hospital in Hamburg, the two athletes cried.

I think Seles, when she returns to tennis, will enjoy greater popularity than ever. The public will view her in a more sympathetic light.

Seles has never been the most popular player, which is a shame. When you think about it, she is an amazing athlete. At the tender age of 19, Seles is the No. 1 player in the world. She has already won eight Grand Slam championships and all we talk about is how she grunts. She deserves better.

And don't think for a minute that the Seles incident is lost on baseball players. As Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr., said yesterday when asked about it: "I'm watching my back."

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