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New O's outfielder has reputation that follows him

December 06, 1998|By RON SOMERS / Sports Editor

Sean Fitzpatrick was a big fellow, about 6 foot 4 inches, and 220 pounds of solid muscle.

Yet he sat hunkered behind a desk behind what he hoped were at least two locked doors, shaking in fear of the wrath of hot-tempered Albert Belle.

Yes, the same Albert Belle who signed with the Orioles on Monday. The same Albert Belle who has constantly run afoul of his employers, the law and people of good karma everywhere.

Seems our buddy had offended the charming Mr. Belle, and word was out that Belle was looking for him. He wanted to shake Sean, but not his hand. More like his whole body.

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Sean was the official scorer for the Tucson Toros, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. On this particular night, Belle was in Tucson, playing for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A team.

Sean had made a scoring decision, one of many he was typically called on to make during the course of a game. It credited a Tucson player with an error. The decision took away a hit from Belle, then trying to work his way to the majors.

Belle left the game shortly thereafter, and some wiseguy in the pressbox suggested to Sean that Belle was in the clubhouse busting the place up in one of his infamous temper tantrums.

Sean tried to laugh it off, but seemed concerned. Others in the pressbox joined in, saying that Belle had asked the clubhouse attendant who the idiot was who made such an awful scoring decision.

Sean laughed but it was more of a whistling-in-the-dark laugh.

Soon, Mike Feder, the Toros general manager, appeared in the pressbox saying that Belle was indeed angry and wanted to confront the official scorer.

Sean was scared now.

The pressbox grew quiet. Would Belle come storming up the steps and take out the whole place - writers (including yours truly), broadcasters and team officials included?

As the game neared the end, a man we affectionately called Sheriff Dan appeared in the pressbox. Sheriff Dan was an off-duty police officer hired to keep order at the games.

"What are you doing here?'' Sean said.

"Protecting you,'' Sheriff Dan said.

Fear spread across Sean's face.

The game ended, and Sheriff Dan hustled a very worried Sean downstairs and into one of the back offices occupied by the Toros underneath the grandstand.

As Sean completed his paperwork, one of the Toros players appeared and said Belle was looking for him.

Sweat beaded on Sean's forehead.

Finally, the office door burst open ... and in rushed Feder, smiling.

He assured Sean it was all a joke that kept snowballing as more people heard about it. In fact, Belle had said nary a word about the call and was on the team bus back to the hotel.

Sean was too relieved to be angry, so he laughed.

But it's not funny that a man's reputation for volatility is so bad that the mere thought of him going off the deep end can turn a hulk of a man into quivering jelly.

Ron Somers is sports editor for The Herald-Mail.

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