As a teenager growing up in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, working as a batboy in the clubhouses with the Baltimore Orioles and opposing teams was a dream job for Ronald Shelton.
But Shelton said he quietly left the job before he had planned to do so after being twice sexually assaulted in an equipment room in 1990 by a Red Sox clubhouse manager, Donald Fitzpatrick, when the Boston team was in town. Now all these years later, Fitzpatrick has been linked to a growing number of claims of sexual assault. And Shelton has come forward.
"He told me to 'Be good,' and as I got older, I came to understand what that meant: Do not tell," said Shelton, now a 38-year-old father. He said the experience made him fear being considered "abnormal," and as a result of his experience, he is fiercely protective of his son.
Shelton and a second, unnamed former Orioles batboy this week joined a growing number of former Red Sox attendants who say that Fitzpatrick, who died in 2005, abused them.
Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said Monday that though the statute of limitations for legal action has expired in many of the cases, the alleged victims are seeking settlements from the Red Sox as well as the Orioles because the teams failed to protect the young employees. The accusers are seeking $5 million each from the teams.
"It is time for the Boston Red Sox to step up to the plate and reveal what they knew about the serial pedophile Donald Fitzpatrick," Garabedian said in a phone interview on Monday. "It's also time for the Baltimore Orioles to reveal what they knew. ... There's a public responsibility when it comes to dealing with children. … These organizations should come clean so children in the future are not sexually molested."
The Boston Globe reported that a total of 21 individuals have come forward to make claims spanning decades, and the newspaper called it the "worst sexual abuse scandal in Major League Baseball history."
The Orioles, through spokeswoman Monica Barlow, said the team had notified Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's office of the allegations. The spokeswoman declined further comment.
Garabedian said he has reached out to the teams and wants them to produce records or other possible evidence that others might have known what was happening.
Allegations of sexual abuse by Fitzpatrick are not new — he was convicted of sexually assaulting young boys in 2002 and one former clubhouse attendant showed up at a nationally televised game in 1991 holding a sign that read, "Don Fitzpatrick sexually assaulted me." The Red Sox have paid settlements to several former attendants.
But the accusations that Fitzpatrick abused staff members of opposing teams raises the possibility that there could be victims across the country and other clubs, Garabedian said. "This is the tip of the sexual abuse iceberg," he said.
The surfacing of new allegations follows the widespread attention of the abuse scandal at Penn State University involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with 52 counts accusing him of sexually abusing boys, and allegations from three former Syracuse basketball ballboys that they were abused by assistant coach Bernie Fine, who has not been charged.
As a bat boy, young baseball fans get to rub elbows with their heroes. They wear uniforms and enjoy access to the playing field and other exclusive areas — perks most fans can only dream of.
Jimmy Triantas worked as an Orioles bat boy from 1985 to 1988, and in the clubhouse until 1990, and keeps in touch with some of his former clubhouse attendants. He was taken aback by the allegations that abuse may have occurred in Memorial Stadium, which was demolished a decade ago.
"I've never heard anything like that," said Triantas, now 41. "That really surprises me — that stuff didn't happen as far as I knew."
The accusers say coming forward has not been easy. Charles Crawford, a former Red Sox batboy who came forward in December, said he was the envy of his friends at the time. "Anybody who knew me when I had the job and probably looked up to me is now like, 'Wow, he was holding this in for so long,' " said Crawford, 36.
In many states, the time to file civil lawsuits is limited. Under Maryland law, there is no time limitation for criminal prosecution of sexual offenses against children, but those victims only retain their right to sue civilly until they are 25 years old. Advocates say many victims aren't able to come to terms with the abuse and talk about it until years later.
"When a child is abused, they are made to feel worthless and powerless, and it takes many years" for them to come forward, said Frank Dingle, a Baltimore representative of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Sex abuse is an epidemic in this country, and our legislators protect the insurance companies and the church rather than the hundreds of thousands of kids abused every year."
Lawmakers around the country in recent years have pushed to extend or waive state statutes of limitations, with opponents arguing that it would lead to a torrent of lawsuits that are difficult to defend against. Such an effort to overhaul the laws in Maryland failed in 2009.
When the statute of limitations has passed and the alleged perpetrator is dead, settlements may be a victim's only option. Garabedian, the Boston attorney representing the accusers, has experience obtaining such settlements: He negotiated an $85 million payout from the Archdiocese of Boston for hundreds of people who said they were abused by more than 40 priests there dating to the 1960s.
Attorneys in such cases "often look very carefully to see what an organization could have or should have known, and the truth is in a lot of cases, the answer is nothing. These are sophisticated predators and they're very careful about what they do," said Max Kennerly, a Philadelphia attorney who has written about civil liability in sex abuse cases on his blog. He is not involved in the Red Sox case.
"The organization ends up negotiating from a public relations standpoint," Kennerly said. But while critics may think plaintiffs are "making a fuss to get some money out of it," Kennerly added, "that's also what causes organizations to rethink what they're doing."
"Social change doesn't happen in silence," he said.
Fitzpatrick's career with the Red Sox started in 1944 and lasted until his retirement in 1991. Since then, both the Red Sox and Orioles have changed ownership groups.
A team lawyer for the Red Sox told the Globe that Red Sox "have always viewed the actions of Mr. Fitzpatrick to be abhorrent" and that the club was "unaware of any specifics regarding the matters brought forward recently by these individuals but, given the sensitive nature of the matter, will not have further comment."
The former Orioles batboys were among the first African-American batboys employed by the team and worked in the visiting clubhouse in Memorial Stadium, which has been replaced by Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Though The Baltimore Sun does not generally identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, Shelton, 38, consented to tell his story. He now lives in Laurel works as a medical records employee at the Johns Hopkins University.
He said he got the job working for the team late in the 1989 season from the other man who now says he was abused by Fitzpatrick. Shelton, who was a fan of Mickey Tettleton, Billy Ripken and Jeff Ballard, carried bats, catcher's gear and helmets from the equipment room to the clubhouse, and served as a batboy during games.
He said he was alone in an equipment room before a game on June 15, 1990 — a game the Red Sox won, 4-3 — when Fitzpatrick walked in, closed the door, and started touching his arms. He said Fitzpatrick commented on his physique, and fondled his genitals and buttocks.
"I was scared of a lot of things at the time — I was scared of losing my job," Shelton told The Sun. "I was still in high school and had this great job, but I had to weigh, do I leave my job, or do I tell someone? I wanted to keep the job."
But when the Red Sox returned for a September series at Memorial Stadium, Shelton "dreaded that he [Fitzpatrick] was coming back, and tried to avoid him if at all possible," he said. But Shelton said he was abused a second time during that homestand, under similar circumstances to the first incident. Shelton quit the batboy job after the 1990 season.
Shelton said the experience left him with "trust issues." He does not allow his son to go to overnight camps and prefers that he not have any male physicians. "I'm there for all his practices, all his games," Shelton said.
He said he is telling his story because "I realized that this didn't just happen to me." When others came forward with allegations of abuse by Fitzpatrick, he said, "that had an impact. I felt like I wasn't the only one."
The other alleged Baltimore victim, whom the Globe identified as a 42-year-old federal security worker, told the newspaper he was 16 when he found himself alone in the equipment room with Fitzpatrick in 1986. He said he had asked Fitzpatrick for a smaller pair of uniform pants than the Sox had provided. He alleged Fitzpatrick shut the door, sexually abused him as he tried on a new pair of pants, then said, "You be good."
Garabedian said "it's hard to believe that neither the Red Sox nor the Orioles picked up on or had supervisors who didn't know about the sexual abuse occurring."
"Obviously, someone turned their back on these innocent children or decided not to care," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun