'I was stunned'
Royals first base coach assaulted by father-son duoPosted: Thursday September 19, 2002 11:06 PM
Updated: Saturday September 21, 2002 9:03 AM
CHICAGO (AP) -- With his eyes on home plate and his back to the seats, Tom Gamboa never saw them coming.
One second the Kansas City coach was standing near first base. The next he was slammed to the ground, a bare-chested father and his teenage son pummeling him.
"I felt like a football team had hit me from behind. Next thing I knew, I'm on the ground trying to defend myself," Gamboa said.
"It just happened so fast."
In a scene athletes have feared for years, Gamboa was attacked without warning by two fans who came out of the seats. The Royals rushed to his aid and the 54-year-old Gamboa escaped with a few cuts and a bruised cheek. He walked off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd at Comiskey Park, where the Royals beat the Chicago White Sox 2-1.
A folded-up pocket knife was found on the ground near the scene, and White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand said he saw it slip out of one of the fan's pockets.
"I don't know what we can do to eliminate this," Gamboa said. "I'm grateful [the Royals) got there as quick as they could, especially when there was a knife involved. God forbid me or somebody else would get stabbed.
"That could have been really tragic."
The father, identified by police as 34-year-old William Ligue Jr., and his 15-year-old son were led off the field in handcuffs. They were charged with aggravated battery.
The son faces two juvenile charges of battery because he also struck a security guard. He was released to the custody of his mother Friday.
As they were being put into police cars, the father and son contended there had been exchange with Gamboa.
"He got what he deserved," the elder Ligue said.
But Gamboa denied there was any kind of exchange.
"I have never at any time ever verbally or physically acknowledged the people in the stands and I encourage players to just tune them out," Gamboa said Friday morning in an interview with Sporting News Radio. "To respond to it in any manner lets that idiot know that he is getting to you, and common sense tells you that it will just escalate.
"That did not happen in any way shape or form."
This was the second unusual disruption during a game this week. On Monday night, police trying to break up a fight in the stands at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., used pepper spray that drifted onto the field and sickened some players as the Philadelphia Eagles played the Washington Redskins. There were no serious injuries.
Instances of on-field violence by fans have been rare over the years, but athletes are increasingly worried for their safety as fans get more and more brazen.
The most notorious attack was the one on tennis star Monica Seles, who was stabbed in the back by an obsessed fan in April 1993 during a match in Hamburg, Germany.
On Sept. 28, 1995, Cubs reliever Randy Myers was charged by a 27-year-old bond trader who ran out of the stands at Wrigley Field. Myers saw the man coming, dropped his glove and knocked him down with his forearm.
On Sept. 24, 1999, a 23-year-old fan attacked Houston right fielder Bill Spiers at Milwaukee. Spiers ended up with a welt under his left eye, a bloody nose and whiplash.
"Stuff like that is hard to control," Royals closer Roberto Hernandez said. "Once fans get a little boisterous and have a few too many beers, anything goes. Everybody was watching the play and these guys just literally walked on the field, then rushed Tom."
Gamboa, in his second year on the Royals staff, said he had no idea why he was attacked. Michael Tucker had just bunted back to White Sox pitcher Mike Porzio for the first out in the top of the ninth, and Gamboa was looking at home plate, his hands on his hips.
Suddenly, the two fans ran onto the field.
"When I saw the two guys running to first base, I thought they were going to run the bases like they normally do," Royals outfielder Carlos Beltran said.
But the two headed straight for Gamboa, tackled him and began punching him.
"When you get in brawls with the other team, you have a chance to anticipate this type of thing," Gamboa said. "But not when it's coming totally unprovoked. And from behind. I'm just totally stunned."
Gamboa said one of the men was speaking, but he couldn't tell what he was saying.
"He was yelling something, but it was incoherent," Gamboa said. "It just happened so fast."
The entire Royals dugout cleared and their bullpen rushed in from right field to help Gamboa. Several players jumped on the fans and punches were exchanged.
The White Sox players who were on the field ran over to see what was happening, turning first base into a wild scene. Security came on the field and tried to break it up, but it was several minutes before order was restored.
"Security did a good job cleaning it up," Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney said. "If it wasn't for them, we'd probably still be beating on those guys."
As security led Ligue and his son off the field in handcuffs, trainers attended to Gamboa. Blood was visible on his forehead as he walked, but he was smiling and laughing as he got more treatment in the dugout.
"I'm just stiff and sore," he said. "I heard one of the guys say there was a knife. I was stunned, so I was checking to see if I was stabbed and didn't realize it."
Hitting coach Lamar Johnson replaced him in the first base box, and the game finally resumed after about a 10-minute delay.
Gamboa said he doesn't blame White Sox security for the incident. And he doesn't fault first-base umpire Matt Hollowell or White Sox second baseman Willie Harris for not immediately coming to his aid.
"In fairness to everybody," Gamboa said, "everyone was stunned."
But this should be a sobering lesson to everyone, Beltran said. The next incident might not end so well.
"We think we're safe at the ballpark," Beltran said. "What happened today, that tells us no matter where we are, we're not safe."
Notes: Beltran hit a two-run homer for the Royals and Paul Byrd won his career-high 17th game. ... Byrd is the first Royals pitcher to win 17 games since Kevin Appier won 18 in 1993. ... The Royals had scored a total of two runs in their two previous games. ... Kansas City needs to go 7-2 over its last nine games to avoid matching the club record for single-season losses.