BANGOR — A baseball dugout typically is a place where teams rest while they’re batting and talk strategy.
For the Edmonton (Alberta) East Park Orioles, the dugout became a safety net last Thursday while two other teams were brawling around them.
The incident came just after East Park had edged host Saint John, New Brunswick, 1-0 in the semifinals of the Canadian Senior League tournament, when players and fans from teams from Saint John and Valleyfield, Quebec, engaged in a 10-minute melee involving an estimated 30 to 40 people.
“It had been building up between Quebec and Saint John during the tournament, and in the semifinals the Quebec players came to our game and were yelling quite a bit against the New Brunswick guys,” said East Park manager Greg Olson on Sunday at the Senior League World Series, where his team dropped an 8-0 opening-day decision to Bangor.
“But New Brunswick fans when you played them it was almost the same thing, so I’m not going to favor one of the teams.”
Tensions reportedly had been mounting between the teams for several days.
Saint John defeated Valleyfield 10-9 on Tuesday morning in the conclusion of a game that had been suspended due to fog in the bottom of the fifth inning on Monday. According to the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Valleyfield was upset that the fifth inning had started at all on Monday — particularly after Saint John tied the game at 7-7 in its half of the inning before the game was halted.
After being eliminated from the tournament by Vancouver, Tuesday afternoon, the Valleyfield team reportedly rooted vocally against Saint John in its game later that day against Cornwall, Ontario.
The Quebec team remained in Saint John for the duration of the tournament, and again reportedly heckled the Saint John team during its semifinal Thursday against Edmonton East Park.
According to the Edmonton Sun, as the Saint John and Edmonton players were shaking hands after their game, a Saint John player walked into the stands to face the hecklers, and violence subsequently spilled from the bleachers.
“Saint John lost a really close game and I think the coaches should have gone out through a different exit,” Olson said, “but they let their players exit through the crowd and some guys started fighting and then a bunch of guys were fighting. One lady fell out of the stands and nearly broke her neck, it was an ugly thing for baseball.
Olson quickly gathered his players and got them out of harm’s way.
“We were still on the field, but when it started I immediately got my guys and got them in the dugout because I didn’t want to be any part of it,” he said. “It was really pretty ugly.
“It reminded me kind of a hockey game, not a baseball game.”
One person, 70-year-old Patricia Bryson, reportedly was trampled and kicked in the head during the melee and remains in considerable pain, her husband told the Telegraph-Journal.
Victor Fitzgerald, Little League Canada district administrator and co-chairman of the tournament, told the Saint John newspaper that the tournament committee is preparing a report on the incident for Little League Canada, which is planning to hold a disciplinary hearing.
Senior League World Series tournament director Mike Brooker was surprised the situation was allowed to escalate to the point of a brawl.
“No. 1, the incident never should have gotten to the point where it could have happened, the kids should not have been allowed to be in the stands taunting the other team,” he said. “That’s up to you as a tournament director and as a tournament staff to address. They should have asked the team to leave when they couldn’t control their behavior.
“It just boggles my mind how it got to the point that something like that happened, because we would have cut that off before it ever got to that level.”
Also surprising was the report in the Edmonton Sun that police reportedly weren’t called to the New Brunswick scene.
“Here in Bangor we’re very fortunate in that if I ask the police to come over here because we’re worried about something, they would be over here,” Brooker said. “But we also have among our tournament staff and grounds crew several retired police officers and firefighters, so we have some people trained in crowd control and could command a presence so the kids would understand that such behavior would have to end.”
The SLWS has not had to deal with any similar on-field incidents since the event was awarded to Bangor in 2002.
“What we do here is basically let the coaches know before we start that we’re just not going to put up with anything that’s not appropriate,” said Brooker. “We understand that these are 15 and 16-year-old kids and that their competitive juices might get going, but the coaches have to control their teams.”
Brooker added that one key to preventing such violence is an awareness among tournament officials for spotting potential issues and addressing them before they fester.
Brooker said there have been a couple of incidents at the motel where SLWS teams stay during their eight or nine days they’re in Bangor, “but I will say that in those incidents the coaches dealt with it immediately.”
Brooker remains optimistic, however, that violence won’t come to the SLWS, though he added that he and his staff will remained prepared.