Throwing them out to make it safe

BASEBALL JOURNAL

August 11, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Look at these guys: handcuffed, soaking wet, standing in the ballpark lockup like six drenched hounds. They're all that remains of Rainout Theater on another night in the underbelly of Camden Yards.

As Baltimore Police Lt. Russell Shea Jr., the head of ballpark security, puts it: "Something always comes up."

An offensive drunk, people with stolen tickets sitting in the rightful owners' seats, a woman pouring a soda on an ex-lover's head. Nothing too scary, but always something.

A rain delay, for example, and six guys doing the Rick Dempsey belly slide on the tarpaulin.

They were restless, says Shea, frustrated about the delay. Three teen-agers from Virginia jumped onto the field, cavorted on the tarp, were cheered by the sodden faithful. Then the cops in black slickers closed in for the collar. The sparse crowd booed as the trio was escorted off the field. Minutes later, three Towson State students, who evidently did not see the arrests, walked out to the grandstands, looked at the wet tarp and were struck with what must have seemed a fresh idea.

So Cell 1 and Cell 2 -- a couple of 8-foot-by-8-foot cages in the little police command post on the concourse -- were filled to capacity for a couple of hours. Stupid human tricks. Like every other cop working a neighborhood, Shea can tell some stories.

And it's only his first season as commander of the 44 city officers and two sergeants who patrol the ballpark during games. The city pays salaries for Shea, who works at Camden Yards steadily during the season, and for the sergeants, who rotate on the shift. The bill for overtime shifts for officers is split 50-50 between the city and the Orioles.

This is the police force for a village of about 50,000 people, counting employees and the usual full house.

"People," answers Shea, when asked what keeps the work interesting. So many people showing up in so many moods to fill such a small space.

There was the young man who had an idea about running onto the field and sliding into home after a game ended earlier this season. And so he did, and devised a creative explanation when he was arrested: "He said he was a French exchange student," says Shea. "He said he was told this was the custom, to run on the field."

The fellow sat in the lockup babbling in a language that sounded to the untrained ear like French. Turned out he was a local man and was charged with trespassing, says Shea.

"I'll give him an A for effort," says Shea. "That's a heck of a story."

If you get arrested at the ballpark, count on spending an hour or so in the lockup while ballpark officers write up an arrest report and call a wagon to take you to a police station for booking and a bail hearing. That can take six hours or more.

Shea has been with the police department for 15 years. Before taking the ballpark job, he worked in narcotics for a few years and in West Baltimore. No complaints about those assignments, but he says he grew weary of watching people die in violent crime.

One doesn't see such things at the ballpark. One might see, for example, a man with his wife and children sitting a few seats away from a woman with whom he once had an extramarital office romance. One could see the jilted woman return from a concession stand with a large container of soda and pour it on the man's head.

"He wants to make a report, an assault by Coke report," says Shea. "They wanted me to mediate this."

The woman gives Shea the whole story. The clandestine affair, the breakup, all this on a night in June while standing in the club level with a ballgame in the background and a man wiping soda off his head. Shea's decision: Find the scorned woman a seat elsewhere in the park.

This sort of drama is rare. More often, Shea sees conflicts over seats, typically people with stolen tickets showing up for games only to find the seats occupied by the rightful owners holding passes granted by the Orioles in exchange for proof of the theft.

He also sees many drunks. Loud drunks, offensive drunks, belligerent drunks. He hates drunks, he says.

"You cannot reason with a drunk," says Shea, who no longer tries.

He does attempt to get a feel for the crowd by walking around the park early in the game. During the last homestand, shortly after the Major League Baseball Players Association announced the Aug. 12 strike date, Shea said he thought he detected a testier mood, people irritated at the prospect of baseball ending.

On Friday night, the day after the strike date was set, eight people were arrested for scalping and other offenses, about double the usual number. Things quieted down on Saturday and Sunday, however.

Shea says "the crowd was a bit more rowdy" at Memorial Stadium, where he often worked on the security detail under Lt. Phil Farace. But Camden Yards, for all the cellular phones, suits and yuppie demographics, also has its moments.

Early this season, a woman once had a few too many and fell fast asleep stretched out on the counter of a bar on the club level, of all places. Then there was the fellow who worked as a server on the club level, showed up for work drunk during the last homestand, got fired on the spot, made a scene and was arrested for disorderly conduct. The same night, a fellow relieved himself in a drink cup in the Frank Robinson party room, also on the club level. Somebody noticed. The lockup welcomed another customer.

All this comes under the general heading of behavior that is "not family-oriented," and is, therefore, unacceptable, says Shea. "I want you to be comfortable with your 6-year-old here."

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