Thwack! The Yankee batter sliced the baseball off the tee and ran for first base. The ball bounced into the outfield, stopping just short of the chalk arc that marked the home-run line. Convinced that the ball had rolled across the line -- an automatic double -- Yankee manager Pedro Lopez stormed onto the field to confront the umpire. A Tiger coach, Peter Hernandez, joined the argument, and soon the two coaches were shoving each other. Then Hernandez threw a punch -- and 20 more parents charged in. The players were hustled into the dugouts, but a home video of the August 2000 melee in Miami's Tamiami Park shows one young fielder still in his position. He was only 5 years old, and he just wanted to keep playing the game.
On baseball diamonds and soccer fields across the nation, the games kids play are increasingly overshadowed by the punches adults throw. The National Association of Sports Officials logged more than 100 assaults on referees and umpires last year. In 1998, the Racine, WI-based group started providing assault insurance to pay members' medical and legal bills when players, coaches, or parents take the old cry "Kill the ump!" to heart. No one tracks the more common cases when fans attack coaches, players, or each other.
Unless, of course, those assaults make national headlines -- like the hockey-rink death of Michael Costin in July 2000. Costin was coaching a group of kids through a practice when one player's dad, Thomas Junta, started yelling at him about excessive roughness. Costin skated over to Junta, swearing. Junta ran onto the ice, and they scuffled. An employee of the Reading, MA, rink ordered Junta to leave. But minutes later, police say, he returned and confronted Costin, who was treating his three sons to sodas. Ignoring the boys' pleas, Junta pinned Costin to the floor and beat him into a fatal coma, according to charges brought by prosecutors. Jurors found Junta guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to six to ten years in Massachussetts state prison.