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Local family tries to get past glare of ABC spotlight

August 06, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Nearly a week after their appearance on an ABC-TV documentary turned their lives upside down, Chris and Lisa McAfee cheered on their son at his Little League baseball game Wednesday evening.

A brief exchange between McAfee and his son, Jeremy, caught by ABC's cameras for the whole world to see, prompted threats from strangers and an investigation from the Department of Social Services.

Jeremy, who plays third base for the National Little League all-star team, has been a standout this season. After losing in the state tournament, the team began play with the other teams in its district in another tournament.

The 11-year-olds like Jeremy have gotten a lot more playing time. On Tuesday night, he smashed a home run. People in the stands gave him a standing ovation. The opposing team gave him the ball.

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Off the field, it has been a difficult week. The McAfees said they have received threatening phone calls from people who watched the ABC show, and Lisa McAfee said she has sent Jeremy to stay at a friend's house during the day.

But things have calmed down, and the McAfees said they have gotten a lot of support, too.

"We started getting some positive phone calls. And our friends down here have been great," she said, as she watched her son from the bleachers behind first base. "Last night, people have been coming up to Chris who didn't even know him, telling him to be strong."

McAfee said the experience has been difficult for Jeremy. But she also said that none of the other children have said anything negative to her son.

McAfee said Jeremy has said little about the show last week other than to acknowledge the tension he senses from his father.

"He said, 'Mom, you know he's under a lot of pressure,'" McAfee said.

For Chris McAfee, this Little League season has been a time for reflection.

Even before the ABC special, "The American Game," aired July 30, McAfee said he began to take stock. He said he grew up playing baseball in a rough environment where screaming parents were a part of the game.

But for the entire season, McAfee said league officials have told him to stay away from the field during Jeremy's games.

Watching himself on television, McAfee saw himself yelling at umpires and getting upset.

On Wednesday, he stood in front of his Cherokee 4-by-4, watching the game from the parking lot of the Washington County Board of Education building, far from the field.

A season of watching games has given him a different perspective on the umpiring, he said.

"Now that I'm sitting back here, these guys are doing the best job they can," he said. "It's just a game when you're sitting out here."

It has also given him a different perspective on his son, McAfee said. Now he waits until they get home after a game to coach his son.

Despite the turmoil of the last week, McAfee said it has also brought a lot of support. When Jeremy smacked a home run on Tuesday, he said boys from the other team whom he did not know threw him the ball as a souvenir.

Chris McAfee's boyhood friend, Jody Dowler, said McAfee's yelling was never meant to hurt anyone.

"People don't understand there's pride behind that," he said.

McAfee said he has received words of encouragement from unexpected sources. His middle school gym teacher, who once paddled him for misbehaving in school, came by one of the games and told him to keep his head up.

The ordeal is not over for the McAfees. Lisa McAfee met with a Department of Social Services investigator Thursday and Chris McAfee is scheduled for a similar interview next week. They said the investigator told them he has not detected any abuse during an initial inquiry.

Chris McAfee said the experience has brought him closer to his son and reiterated that he has never harmed his son.

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