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No U in team

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Repeat after me: "Buying a ticket to the game does not make me part of the game." The perception of some fans that they're directly involved in the action played a major role in igniting the disturbing incident that took place at an NBA game in Detroit this winter. And just recently during a Red Sox-Yankees game in Boston, a fan reached down and interfered with a play in right field, his motives still not entirely clear despite the sports radio set analyzing the videotape as if it were the Zapruder film. (Opinion seems to be split as to whether the fan acted alone.) Quick intervention by the Fenway Park security went a long way toward defusing the situation, but the potential for things getting really ugly was there.

For starters, I blame beer, everybody-is-a-star reality television, beer, and sports-based video games. And I bet beer also plays a big part. Your ticket purchase allows you to watch the game and to cheer and boo. It does not give you the right to be abusive, nor does it entitle you to get involved in the action. That's why you're called a spectator, not a participator. Recall last baseball season when a female fan got hit in the head with a chair thrown by a player. It came out that she and her husband made a point of sitting near the opposing bullpen because it was a prime heckling spot. I don't condone beaning fans with furniture, but I admit that after hearing that bit of news I felt a little less sorry for the woman. And it also proved again that when fans cross the line between spectating and participating, blood and bandages often result. Two pieces of footage in my mind back this up: Colts linebacker and Duke grad Mike Curtis decking a guy who ran on the field mid-game, and-- proving that it's not always the fans who get roughed up--a father-and-son hooligan team jumping Kansas City Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa.

Nothing nearly that extreme occurred as my son and I sat in the right-field stands on opening day at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park; however, a couple of college-age guys were getting on Toledo Mud Hens right-fielder Alexis Gomez. The taunts were mild for the most part but a few had teeth, and I could envision girlfriends, sisters, possibly even mothers being worked into the mix as the innings and empty beer cups piled up. Less distressing but equally distracting, the same guys were trying to carry on a conversation with Bulls right-fielder Johnny Gomes in the top half of innings, peppering him with inquiries about the team and other matters between pitches. The good-natured Gomes showed a lot of patience. I wouldn't have blamed him if he'd shouted, "Dude, I'm working here. Next time you're trying to take an exam in Anthropology 401, I'm going to bug you with a bunch of dumb-ass questions." I've seen the same behavior at music shows where fans shout out obscure song requests and other conversational gambits, often mid-song, when it's clear the artist just wants to play some tunes for the respectful majority.

If you want your time in center field or on center stage, then I suggest that--calling on the punch line to the classic Carnegie Hall joke--you practice. You also might want to make sure that you know how to deal with unruly fans.

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