Fight breaks out after baseball game


by John Ring

Dan Johns is an admitted baseball junkie.

"I love baseball," said Johns. "It’s a great game and I love being around it."

A veteran umpire, Dan Johns used to like calling games in Galesburg – at least until last Sunday. "Galesburg has always had an intensity for baseball that I like. I’m familiar with the players who have come through Galesburg and I have a great relationship with the coaches up there, too."

A resident of Farmington, Dan Johns won’t be coming back to Galesburg any more. He’s had enough.

Johns and Todd Olinger were umpiring a double header between American Legion teams from Rock Island and Galesburg at Sundberg Field this past Sunday. The two teams are natural rivals and on Sunday, the Rocks dominated. They knocked off Post 285 starting ace Davy Fields in the first game on their way to a 7-4 triumph and then treated co-ace Drew Swanson just as rudely in the nightcap, winning 7-3.

"It just wasn’t Galesburg’s day. Nothing went right for them. You have those days in baseball and Mike Sturgeon and Jami Isaacson are smart enough to know that," said Johns about Post 285’s coaches.

In the second game, Olinger was paged and had to leave early for his job. Johns was the lone umpire left but forged on. "There weren’t really any close calls and I covered as much area as I could."

But in Galesburg’s last at-bat, Brad Salsman of Post 285 was thrown out at the plate to finish the game. "He was out by ten feet," said Johns. "It wasn’t even close."

The game over, Johns left the field and started out toward the parking lot. That’s when the situation erupted.

"I was behind the Galesburg dugout and this guy starts to yell at me," said Johns. "He was the older brother of a Galesburg player. He was standing about 40 feet away from me with his pals. He yelled at me, he asked if it was tough to umpire a game by yourself and I said it wasn’t. Then he yelled, ‘Well you sure did miss that last call’ but I kept walking."

James Dickerson, a father of a Legion player, was standing behind the fan yelling at the ump and tells a different version. "When the umpire heard that, he grabbed his crotch and said ‘suck this’. Now what are you going to do when you hear that if you’re a man? That’s the truth, that’s what he did."

"He kept on yelling, calling me a bastard and some other names," continued Johns. "That’s when I stopped in my tracks. At that point, he started running towards me, coming right at me full-bore with his John Wayne-face on. His gang was coming behind him too but not as fast. In a group, you get a lot tougher and feel muscles you don’t have."

"I was a state trooper for several years and I know well enough what he was going to do. There was no doubt in my mind he was coming at me and he wasn’t going to ask about the weather."

That’s when Johns hit the fan advancing towards him and the mêlée started. "I decked him," said Johns. "Now if you throw the first punch, it’s either for self defense or to be aggressive. I did it for self defense. He was coming over to fight."

Jeff Marty, a fan who was at the game, was the closest non-participant at this juncture. "The fan went right into the umpire and then the umpire decked him," said Marty. "I tried to get the two apart because the umpire was trying to hit him again. That’s when we all went down from the crowd surging at us. I landed on top of the umpire and told him it was all over."

"I got tackled and then piled on," said Johns. "I got kicked and I got hit. One big guy was screaming at me, ‘You swung at that kid,’. Kid my ass. He was 24, 25 years old."

"The umpire threw the first punch," said Dickerson, who was identified by Johns as as a fan screaming at him. "I didn’t say anything to him. Then, someone had his hands around my neck in the fight and that’s when I just took care of myself. Look, I’m a former ballplayer and a coach and I know it was hard on this umpire, being out there by himself. I just went up there to separate those two at first and then everything broke loose."

Rock Island players and coaches then got involved, pulling Johns to his feet and getting him to his car along with Sturgeon. "I was lucky that there were enough good people there to get the garbage off me," said Johns.

"I’m not blaming either team at all. I’ve known Mike Sturgeon for years. We both love baseball, we both work for the Postal Service, we both served in Vietnam. But the behavior of those Galesburg people was reprehensible. Galesburg fans are sore losers. Something’s wrong when you can’t even get to the parking lot. It’s a black eye for Galesburg. It seems like Galesburg can’t control their fans."

For now, Johns has reported the incident to the Chairman of the 3rd Division, 15th District of the American Legion. "The Galesburg American Legion program should do something about this. It happened in their own backyard. These people weren’t true baseball fans. They weren’t baseball people. They were there because their little brother was playing. They drift in, they drift out. But what they did was a Class Four felony, assaulting a sports official."

Johns said he didn’t suffer any major injuries, just some bumps and bruises. He also said he won’t be back in Galesburg to umpire.

"No way. I can take care of myself and it’s nothing against Mike or his team but I’ll never come back to Galesburg. I’ve umpired Division One college baseball, subbed in the Midwest League and been doing this for a long time."

Observers at the game all agreed that Johns had a tough day. "He had a small strike zone and he squeezed the pitchers but he was at least consistent," said Marty. "But people were reaming him all day long. When he came off the field the guy that charged into him, there was a lot of cursing going on before that happened."

Tom Simkins, a father of a player on the Post 285 team agreed. "He had a small strike zone and that hurt Drew a lot but it just wasn’t our day. We had runners thrown out all over, we just didn’t play good baseball. The fact that the other umpire left didn’t bring any of this on. There weren’t any close plays in the infield and Rock Island built up some big leads in each game."

Johns hinted of possible court action as a result of what he considers an assault, saying the statute of limitations lasts a long time for this time of crime. He’s hoping the Legion takes some course of action to better control the actions of the fans.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a dark day in the history of baseball in Galesburg and bad news for a community that needs anything but that.

"It was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen on a baseball field," said Marty, "and I’ve seen a lot of them over the years.