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Steelman comes to rescue of local friend at O's game

June 01, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Nathan Steelman is seen here in this 2008 file photo.
File photo

Nathan Steelman has come to learn to be ready for anything.

After two tours in the military — one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan — he realizes it doesn’t take much to change the course of a day.

Steelman, a Smithsburg native, was reminded of that Wednesday on a relaxing evening that went from sublime to ridiculous to tragic in the span of an hour.

It went from watching the Washington Nationals-Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards to running into some old acquaintances, including Boonsboro High School graduate Matt Fortese, whom he hadn’t seen in years since playing baseball together as kids.

It ended with Steelman helping to save Fortese’s life after an ugly incident in the left-field stands that sent Fortese to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where he is listed in serious condition, suffering from severe head trauma and a fractured skull after landing on the stadium concourse after an 8-foot fall.

“I was out with friends, going to my first game of the season,” Steelman said via telephone. “I still can’t believe it.”

Two men — Gregory Fleischman, 22, of Jarrettsville, Md., and Michael Bell, 21, of Annapolis — are charged in the attack.

Fleischman was charged with first- and second-degree assault and disorderly conduct, according to Baltimore City District Court records.

Bell was charged with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct, according to court records.

Fortese was on a second date with his new girlfriend and some friends. He confronted a pair of men sitting above them who taunted Fortese and doused them with beer because he was wearing a New York Yankees cap.

Fortese approached the pair and argued with them before receiving the punch that caused him to fall. According to The (Baltimore) Sun, police said Fleischman punched Fortese.

“I can’t believe it,” Steelman said. “Matt is one of the most unconfrontational people you’d ever want to meet. He is a Southern gentlemen. He is funny and always worried about his friends. He isn’t the type of guy who would throw the first punch. The punch knocked him out because he never braced himself for the fall.”

Steelman, 26, is in his fourth year as a Maryland State Police trooper after attending the police academy between his stints in the service. He was a three-sport star at Smithsburg High School with a love for baseball.

After returning from Iraq, he walked on and pitched for the University of Maryland’s baseball team — graduating in 2009 — before enrolling to become a trooper. He then went to Afghanistan, returning in December 2011.

Steelman was at the game because of a spur-of-the-moment decision. He was going off duty and was so casual, he didn’t even know in what section he was sitting.

“I was with other troopers,” he said. “One of them got a bunch of tickets and I was getting off work.”

Steelman ran into Fortese when he was going back to his seat after going to the restroom. It brought back memories of when the two played against each other in high school and together in the Hagerstown PONY League.

“I heard, ‘Hey, Nate Steelman,’” Steelman said. “There he was in the section next to mine. I hadn’t seen him in two, three years. We talked for a couple of minutes. ... He was on a date and with friends and I went back to my friends.”

A bit later, Steelman heard another “Hey, Nate” call. It was from a couple of friends who were just returning from service in Afghanistan.

“We stood talking in the standing area,” Steelman said. “As we were talking, I saw the follow-through of a punch. Then, I heard the noise.

“The sound of it alone was enough to make you sick. You knew exactly what happened when you heard it.”

Steelman rushed over, but didn’t realize Fortese was the victim until he got to the site.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t think about who it was,” Steelman said. “When I first got there, I said, ‘That’s Matt,’ but then I saw the injury and I couldn’t personalize it. No matter who it was, I had to do what I could to help them.”

Steelman said he went back to his military training. Fortese was lying with blood coming from his nose and wasn’t breathing. Steelman cleared Fortese’s airway, blocked by chewing tobacco, to revive his breathing and then positioned him to allow him to continue breathing on his own.

“It was a crazy situation,” Steelman said. “The Orioles were hitting home runs and there was a whole lot of things going on around us.”

According to The Sun, Steelman then identified himself as a trooper to Fleischman and Bell and instructed them to stay put until they were arrested.

Fortese’s family has given Steelman much of the credit for keeping Matt alive.

Now, after three years of not seeing Fortese, Steelman has made sure he is staying in touch.

“I’ve been seeing him every day since then,” he said. “I haven’t processed it all yet, and it still hasn’t hit me yet. I can’t believe it.”

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