Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fowl Play: Strange Incidents Involving Birds

The possibilities of what can happen on a baseball field are virtually limitless--especially  when the game is played in an open air environment. Bats get broken, balls carom wildly, unwanted guests invade the playing surface. More than one unusual on-field event has involved the presence of birds.

On August 4th, 1983, Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield was taken to the Ontario Provincial Police Station following a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays and charged with cruelty to animals. He was released after posting a $500 bond. The incident that landed him in trouble happened as the Jays were coming to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. While playing catch with left fielder Don Baylor, Winfield fired a ball in the direction of a segull camped out on the field and scored a direct hit, killing the bird. He later claimed it was accidental, but fans in proximity believed otherwise, showering him with insults and debris. Billy Martin later joked:"They say he hit the gull on purpose. They wouldn't say that had they seen the throws he's been making all year. It's the first time he's hit the cutoff man." Winfield would be associated with the incident for the rest of his career.

On March 21st, 2001, during a spring training game between the Diamondbacks and Giants, Arizona hurler Randy Johnson threw a fastball that struck and killed a dove. The bird swooped across the field just as Johnson was releasing the ball. Catcher Rod Barajas commented: "I'm sitting there, waiting for (the pitch) and all you see is an explosion. It's crazy. There's still feathers down there." The bird was killed on impact and, though some players tried to make light of the unfortunate event, Johnson was not among them. The big left-hander commented after the game in typical terse fashion: "I didn't think it was all that funny." More than 10 years later, there are still dozens of links to the game footage.

On June 11th, 2009, during a game between the Royals and Indians at Cleveland, birds played a major role in the proceedings yet again. The game was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the tenth. Kyle Farnsworth was pitching for Kansas City in relief. Mark DeRosa had singled and Victor Martinez had drawn a walk when Shin-Soo Choo singled up the middle straight into a flock of grazing seagulls. Choo's liner hit one of the birds and skittered away to the outfield wall as the winning run scored. Center Fielder Coco Crisp threw his hands up in a gesture of exasperation, but there was no disputing the play. Mike Reilly, chief of the umpiring crew, said: "They're in play--whatever (the ball) does off the bird." This time, no pinioned creatures were harmed during the sequence. "Crazy things happen in this game," said Crisp after the loss. "That's why it's a great game."

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