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Keller: Hoping that norm is not an exception

June 06, 2013|By MARK KELLER

I’ve never understood how people — average people like you and me — can get so wrapped up in a pro sports team, or put so much emphasis on a game.

That might sound like me biting the hand that feeds me, but I don’t see it that way.

Interest in sports or a sports team is one thing. Allowing that interest to consume and dictate one’s emotions and actions is something else.

Resorting to criminal activity in the name of or in defense of “your team” is, well, just criminal.

And inexcusable.

And sad and pathetic, too.

What happened to Matt Fortese at Camden Yards last week was all of those things.

Criminal, inexcusable, sad and pathetic.

According to police and witness reports, two men harassed Matt — who was wearing a New York Yankees cap — during the game. When a beer was thrown on him and his date, Matt climbed a wall to confront the men.

Matt was punched and fell to a concrete walkway below, suffering a fractured skull. He is listed in critical condition at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

The story hit close to home for me. The day before the incident happened, I spoke to Matt’s mom, who is affectionately known in our family as “Miss Peggy.”

Miss Peggy was one of my son’s first teachers when he started school five years ago. Wesley was 3 years old, had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum about a month earlier and was in need of special attention and some extra loving care at that time.

Miss Peggy took Wesley under her wing and into her heart, as well. For parents who had just recently received such frightening news about their son, she was like a guardian angel in the classroom. We always knew that she was watching out for Wesley.

I was in Wesley’s school last Tuesday to hear him give an animal research presentation. Miss Peggy happened to be in the school that day and made a point to hear Wesley’s presentation.

Miss Peggy told me later she talked so much about Wesley that when Matt came to visit her at the school one day last year, she decided she had to introduce the two of them.

She said Matt could see why she talked about Wesley so much, saying “he’s a great kid.”

One day later, the woman who helped change my son’s life saw her son’s life — and her own — change.

And the way it happened was criminal, inexcusable, sad and pathetic.

Last weekend, the incident was on my mind as I took Wesley to his first baseball game. We, along with my co-worker Bob Parasiliti, went to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play the team that I root for, the Cincinnati Reds.

I wore a red T-shirt and my Reds hat. There were many other Reds hats and jerseys showing in the stands that day.

Sitting in the row behind us was a group of six or seven guys, all wearing some form of Pirates gear, all in their mid-20s.

They were a little loud and a little boisterous, but thankfully never vulgar. They yelled at the Reds’ left fielder — all in a good-natured way — and even got a thumbs up from the player after one verbal jab.

They jabbed at me — the one red dot standing out like a sore thumb in a sea of black and gold — as good-naturedly as they did the outfielder.

They were funny, and Bob and I joked with them throughout the game. A couple of them gave Wesley — who was rooting for the Pirates — high-fives and applauded his dancing.

When the Pirates won in walk-off fashion in the 11th inning, they celebrated. And as we prepared to leave the stadium, one tapped me on the shoulder and told me he had fun.

“It was good sitting with you guys.”

My feeling, and certainly my hope, is that my experience in Pittsburgh is the norm and Matt’s experience in Baltimore is the exception.

To think of it any other way is just sad.

Mark Keller is Sports Editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7728 or by email at keller@herald-mail.com.

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