Groundskeeper spat on him, ex-Yankee testifies
Lawyer says Sox worker may lose sense of smell
It was a spitter, but not the illegal baseball pitch, that launched a battle in the New York Yankees bullpen during the playoffs between several Yankee players and a lone part-time Red Sox groundskeeper, a Yankee relief pitcher testified yesterday.
Jeffrey A. Nelson told a clerk-magistrate yesterday he was defending himself against a spitting and cursing Paul K. Williams Jr., when he pushed the Red Sox groundskeeper, triggering a fracas inside the Yankees bullpen during a tense October American League championship game between the baseball rivals.
Nelson took the witness stand yesterday in Roxbury District Court where clerk-magistrate Michael W. Neighbors is deciding whether to issue criminal charges against Nelson, Yankee right fielder Karim Garcia, and Williams, 24, of Derry, N.H., for their roles in the bullpen melee that Williams's lawyer said may forever rob the eighth-grade special education teacher of his sense of smell.
Neighbors took the case under advisement and said he will decide Wednesday whether to issue criminal charges against Nelson and Garcia, as recommended by the Boston Police Department, and also whether he will issue a cross-complaint against Williams, as Nelson requested.
Nelson said he approached Williams, who was cheering for the Sox, and told him to leave the Yankees bullpen if he wanted to act like a fan, a request Williams responded to with profanities and spit, according to Nelson.
"He was spitting at me as he was cursing at me," said the 37-year-old Nelson, who added that he pushed Williams in self-defense. "I felt I was being violated and I needed to do something to push him back from me."
Williams followed Nelson on the witness stand and gave a very different account of the fight during the ninth inning of the third game of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 11. He said he was waving a rally flag in the middle of the ninth inning, was looking into the stands, and had his back to the bullpen when Nelson suddenly was in his face. They were so close that the lid of Nelson's cap touched his face, Williams said, adding that Nelson salted his sentences with expletives as he ordered the groundskeeper to take his celebration out of the bullpen.
"Dude, you do your job," Williams said he replied. "I'll do my job."
Williams said that Nelson grabbed him and that he tried to break free. "I was just trying to get his hands off me," Williams said. "I felt violated."
Seconds later, Williams said, he was on the ground, being kicked and punched by Yankee players, an assault he estimated lasted 30 to 40 seconds until he was rescued by Boston police officers. "I don't think cheering for a team is provoking an assault," Williams said.
On the witness stand, Nelson at first said he was not wearing a baseball cap when he confronted Williams, but later said he was. Nelson's description of Williams spitting at him was the first time he made that allegation, according to Williams's lawyer, Patrick T. Jones. But Nelson said that wasn't his fault because he was not accurately quoted by reporters in interviews he gave after the game.
"You know, the things that I said right after the game -- not one thing was printed correctly or on the television," Nelson testified. "What people write is not always the truth."
Jones asked Nelson, who is now a free agent, if he was saying that the news media in Boston, New York, and "up and down the East Coast got it wrong?"
"Yes, they did," Nelson said.
Boston police Detective Matthew M. Tierney said witnesses described Garcia climbing into the bullpen and punching Williams. Tierney also provided Neighbors with photographs taken of Williams at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center after the assault.
Garcia was not in court yesterday, and his lawyer, Gerard F. Malone, told Neighbors his client had been told he was expected to be in court. Neighbors told Malone he will address the case against Garcia next Wednesday.
Nelson's lawyer, James M. Merberg, urged Neighbors to let the issue be settled "in another venue."
Jones said Williams will file a civil lawsuit, but said it was police and the Suffolk district attorney's office who have pushed for criminal charges. He also said that Williams is recovering and suffered a cervical injury and a partially deviated septum, and may have permanently lost his sense of smell.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.