Booze makes some fans too wild for the ball games

April 21, 2003|By KEVIN COWHERD

HERE'S A news bulletin you'll no doubt find shocking. That fan who leaped out of the stands in Chicago the other day and attacked the umpire? He'd been drinking.

No, check that. This guy was doing more than drinking. This guy was practically hooked up to a Bud Light IV drip.

According to the Chicago newspapers, Eric Dybas told police he'd been drinking all day, including at a Cubs game he'd attended earlier. Then once he got to the White Sox game, he downed another five or six beers - presumably just to be sociable.

Then a little voice in his head - although by now the voice probably sounded like God on Mount Sinai - told him it would be neat to jump on the field and tackle the ump.

A few fans had run onto the field earlier. But Dybas, despite the beery haze that enveloped him, wanted to do something to "top" those other fans.

So here was another dangerous, alcohol-fueled incident disrupting a sports event. Just like last September, when a drunken fan and his 15-year-old son leaped from the stands and attacked a Kansas City Royals coach - also at a White Sox game, by the way.

Just like the year before that, when boozed-up Cleveland Browns fans reacted to a controversial call by the officials and rained plastic beer bottles onto the field.

And just like countless other incidents we've seen over the years: the brawls in the stands, the obscene chants and our nifty tradition of celebrating a championship with post-game rioting and the burning of overturned cars.

And guess what? Those incidents are becoming more and more frequent.

Twenty years ago, I was writing columns saying the day was rapidly arriving when sports teams would get fed up with drunks and ban the sale of beer at the ballpark.

But I was wrong.

We'll never see that day - not in my lifetime, anyway.

Beer and big-time sports are too closely intertwined. Teams aren't willing to give up the big bucks they get from beer companies that advertise with them. And the culture of being a sports fan too often includes getting hammered in front of the big-screen TV, or at the ballpark.

Now it's not enough to watch a game and cheer for your team.

Now it's about partying while you watch a game and cheer for your team.

So the policy of most big-time sports teams, pro and college, has evolved to this: Let's try to contain the drunks so they don't bother the other fans.

In this regard, the O's have a pretty good handle on things.

Oh, they'll occasionally have some idiot run onto the field and lead the security people on the usual merry chase before being collared and led away.

But unless you build a moat around the field or ring it with concertina wire and snarling Dobermans, someone bent on getting onto the field will get there.

Roger Hayden, director of ballpark operations, says several factors help keep the number of drunken incidents to a minimum at O's games.

One is that the Orioles have Baltimore City police working their games, not rent-a-cops who might be more intimidated by a raging drunk and tempted to look the other way. ("We really think this gives us a step up," Hayden says.)

Also, the ushers and many of the beer vendors have been trained to spot loaded fans who are being disruptive - and to do something about it. (First they get a warning from the usher, Hayden says. If the behavior continues, they get a warning from the usher's supervisor, with a police officer looming in the background. If it still continues, they get tossed.)

And, Hayden says, the team tries to get the message out that if you get blotto and jump on the field, "you're probably looking at a minimum of 12 hours in the city lock-up."

Anyway, all this, coupled with the three-hour window for beer sales that ends after the seventh inning in the stands and the top of the eighth in the concourse, helps keep things fairly pleasant at Camden Yards.

In fact, an Orioles game looks like a book-of-the-month club meeting compared to a game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, where it often feels like Tire Iron Night in the stands.

For the record, I'm not exactly a teetotalist and enjoy a couple of beers at a ball game as much as the next person.

But I learned long ago that alcohol at these games can make people do stupid things.

When I was a teen-ager, two older kids from my neighborhood got all beered up at a game at Yankee Stadium. They decided it would be cool to run onto the field and shake hands with the great Mickey Mantle.

So that's exactly what they did, although the way Mantle recoiled when they ran up to him, you'd have thought they were trying to shoot him. In any event, after they were led off the field, the cops worked them over pretty good.

When I saw both guys the next day, they had bruises on their arms and faces and dried blood in their hair from where they'd, um, tripped while in custody.

"What the hell made you do that?" I asked one of them.

He shook his head and winced, and for a moment he was silent.

Finally he said: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Yep. That's the whole problem right there.

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