Another moron ran onto the field at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, and 2,500 miles across the country, a man's phone wouldn't stop ringing. When fans act like fools, Tom Gamboa returns from his position as anonymous baseball lifer to anti-idiocy advocate.
He is the man who suffered the brutal beatdown almost eight years ago as first-base coach for the Kansas City Royals. A felon named William Ligue Jr. and his then-15-year-old son, Michael, punched Gamboa, kicked him and set the standard for on-field violence – well, until Monday night at least.
As harrowing as Gamboa's attack was, it involved only fists and feet. A policeman's Taser felling of 17-year-old Steve Consalvi on Monday at a Philadelphia Phillies game divided a country that couldn't stop watching video of it: raw and real, hilarious and sad, a teenager who called his dad to tell him he was running on the field going down like a boxer caught with a flush uppercut. Some thought it brutal, others felt it necessary and all were transfixed.
There was a copycat Tuesday, a pudgy wannabe DJ named Tom Betz, who first tweeted his intentions, then leapt onto the field seemingly begging for a Tase. The police didn't oblige. Alas, Philadelphia didn't have an advocate against the cruelty of using 50,000 volts to stop harmless joyrides. Just another dolt looking to get famous.
Gamboa spent Tuesday at San Luis Obispo (Calif.) Country Club with some friends on a golf vacation, wholly inoculated from the Consalvi incident. When Gamboa finished his round, he turned on his phone, saw a glut of messages and knew something happened. Gamboa's stance was as strong as ever: Fans are going to continue running on the field as long as the penalty for doing so is misdemeanor trespassing, a minor offense.
"If there was mandatory jail time and people knew it and it was enforced, they wouldn't go anywhere near the field," Gamboa said. "Too often, it's a $250 fine and probation, which makes the guy famous for practically no repercussions. It's almost a freebie."
Gamboa has trouble making the distinction between the happy-go-lucky rail-jumpers looking for a laugh – the corpulent security guards in baseball teams' employ often make an evasive intruder look like Barry Sanders – and the Ligues of the world, who intend harm. Distinguishing the two is an imprecise science, and so Gamboa favors a broad-brush approach: treat 'em all the same.
Since he hadn't seen video of either incident, Gamboa didn't want to parse the to-Tase-or-not-to-Tase argument that flared Tuesday.
"I don't even know what a Taser is," he said. "I can certainly see the debate where some people are going to think it's cruel and unusual punishment. People in the sport are going to think differently. We're vulnerable. How can we tell the difference between someone who's harmless and who's going to hurt us?"
No player was hurt in either Philadelphia incident. Consalvi ran around for 30 seconds before the probes jolted him to the ground. The Philadelphia police chief advocated the Taser use. Players on the Phillies and their opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, agreed. Consalvi's parents, while owning up to his stupidity, condemned the need for a Taser. Amnesty International pointed out that more than 350 people have died following Tasings since June 2001.
Perhaps the debate permeated the police force at the Phillies game, as Betz avoided getting shocked. Police walked him off the warning track as fans called him a "fat loser" and chanted: "Tase him, Tase him, Tase him!". Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels(notes), who had thrown eight shutout innings, allowed back-to-back doubles after the incident, sending the game to extra innings, where the Phillies won 2-1.
Between the latest field jump, the Consalvi mess and the case of Matthew Clemmens, the 21-year-old who allegedly intentionally vomited on an 11-year-old girl and her off-duty cop father, Philadelphia is earning its iffy reputation.
"I loved going into Philadelphia," Gamboa said. "Their fans were just like Chicago. It was electric in the park. It would be a mistake for people to label Philly as a problem city for the acts of a couple stupid wackos.
"I don't know what more they can do. If there are 40,000 people at the game, the fans are always going to outnumber security. If someone is dead set to get on the field, they're going to do it."
And so at ballparks big and small, fans of all shapes, sizes and blood-alcohol contents jump the fence. Some do it for the cheer and others on a bet. A brave few go naked. One just wanted a kiss. To Gamboa, they're all the same.
So he'll need a keen eye this summer as he returns to the field. After serving in an off-field role as a minor league coordinator for the San Diego Padres, Gamboa recently was named manager of the Palm Springs Power, a wood-bat team for college freshmen and sophomores. It's a return to his favorite job, having managed from rookie ball through Triple-A as well as 10 years of winter ball.
Gamboa is 62 now. His dreams of managing a big-league team are done. He knows that he'll be remembered for getting knocked down by a pair of shirtless simpletons. He's OK with that, as long as others aren't dealt a similar fate.
"It's just a shame," Gamboa said, "that there's a small percentage of people who think in their twisted minds that getting their name in the paper or on TV makes them famous."
We know who William Ligue Jr. is: the dope who went to jail.
We know who Steve Consalvi is: the idiot who got Tased.
We know who Tom Betz is: just another moron in a long line of those who never learn.
- Tom Gamboa