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Published: Sunday, 6/19/2005

International League notebook: Richmond-Syracuse conflict provides unwanted exposure

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

International League president Randy Mobley has been a busy man lately - for all the wrong reasons.

The league has seen four fights since Saturday, June 11, including one that was featured on such national outlets as ESPN's SportsCenter and NBC's The Today Show.

The first fight took place June 11 in Rochester, and it began when visiting Indianapolis took exception to Kevin West's home-run trot following a third-inning homer.

Indianapolis reliever Jeff Miller threw behind West to open the seventh, causing West to point at Miller and yell at Indians catcher Ronny Paulino. Both benches emptied, but no punches were thrown and both managers were warned not to escalate the bad blood.

Then Red Wings pitcher Willie Eyre threw behind the Tribe's Yurendell de Caster with two outs in the eighth, causing both Eyre and Rochester interim manager Rich Miller to be ejected.

Mobley suspended Eyre for three games and, per IL rule, every player who left the dugout, bullpen or his position on the field was fined.

The most volatile, fight took place Monday in Richmond when the R-Braves and Syracuse were involved in a brawl whose highlights were shown nationally.

The genesis of this fight took place one day earlier, when Richmond's Esix Snead bunted in the ninth inning of a game his team trailed by four runs. That drew the ire of the SkyChiefs, especially pitcher Matt Whiteside, who engaged in a shouting match with Snead after the game.

The next day the first batter of the game, Syracuse's Gabe Gross, was hit by a pitch. In the bottom of the second Snead turned around to bunt, only to see a pitch from the SkyChiefs' David Bush sail between his legs.

Snead had words for Bush, both benches emptied, and the two managers - Marty Pevey of Syracuse and Richmond's Pat Kelly - had a heated exchange. But order was restored, and Snead eventually drew a walk.

That's when things turned surreal. Snead took a few steps toward first, then turned and charged the mound. Bush, who had his back turned, was ambushed by Snead and took a shot to the head that required stitches.

"I had my back turned and didn't know he was coming," Bush told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "I saw my second baseman start running toward the mound and thought, `Why is he running toward me?' At the very last second, I turned my head in time to see the helmet in his right hand.

"He hit me in the side of the head. I never saw it coming."

Snead was ejected, and Bush left the game because of his injury. Also ejected were Richmond's James Jurries and Syracuse's Adrian Burnside, a former Mud Hen who pulled Jurries' jersey over his head and off before tossing it into the stands.

Snead was suspended for 10 games, and Kelly earned a one-game suspension. Snead's suspension will keep him out of a four-game series between the R-Braves and Syracuse that begins tomorrow.

Curiously, both Snead and Burnside were involved in the most recent fight involving the Mud Hens. That took place last Aug. 3 when the Hens scuffled with Norfolk.

Early in that contest Burnside picked Snead, who was playing for Norfolk, off first base. But Snead beat a relay throw to second, then later in the inning stole home against Burnside. As time wore on, Snead began jawing with Burnside, and then players in the Mud Hens' dugout.

Tensions reached a breaking point after an RBI single by Snead in the second, with both benches emptying. Snead and Burnisde were ejected and fined.

One day after this year's Richmond-Syracuse fight, Buffalo and Louisville players had to be separated during a 6-1 Bisons win at Slugger Field.

The teams exchanged hit batsmen, with Buffalo plunking three Bats hitters and Louisville plunking two Herd hitters. Both teams came onto the field when the Bisons' Steve Watkins hit Louisville's Chris Kroski in the eighth, with umpire Troy Fullwood ejecting both Watkins and Buffalo manager Marty Brown.

The most recent fight took place Wednesday in Norfolk when the Tides' Jeff Keppinger was spiked in the knee by Charlotte's Felix Martinez on a play Norfolk felt was dirty. Again, both benches cleared, and Keppinger eventually was helped off the field.

Just as the Richmond-Syracuse series bears watching, so does the next meeting between Norfolk and Charlotte, which takes place Aug. 9 in Norfolk.

"What's the saying? Payback is what?" Norfolk manager Ken Oberkfell told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. "We have more games left with them this season. People in baseball don't forget. It's a given."

ALUMNI WATCH: While his team's offense continues to struggle, Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish had to groan when he saw some of the top hitting performances around the IL this past week.

Durham's Eric Munson, who played for Toledo in 2002, was named the IL's hitter of the week last Monday. He batted .520 last week with four homers and 10 RBIs, including a 3-for-4 performance June 10 with five RBIs, including the game-winner in the last of the 11th.

That was Munson's best hitting effort of the season - until two days later, when he went 5-for-5 with two homers and a double as well as four RBIs and three runs scored.

Another former Hen, Greg Norton, batted .522 in six games last week, the second-best batting average in the IL. Since coming off the disabled list June 6 the third baseman has a .378 batting average.

But the best-hitting Mud Hens alumnus this season is Leo Daigle, who had one at-bat for Toledo last year before being released April 14. On June 14 of this season Daigle hit for the cycle, and this year his stats include a .371 batting average, 23 homers and 78 RBIs.

A word of caution: Daigle is posting these numbers for Winston-Salem in the Single-A Carolina League, two full levels before Toledo.

His batting coach, by the way, is another former Mud Hen, Andy Tomberlin.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481.



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