Don't do this at a Little League baseball game. Dr. Jeffrey Gaber did, and before the second inning was over he had created a situation that triggered a $7 million lawsuit against him -- and was resolved yesterday with a $2 jury award.
Dr. Gaber's troubles began when 9-year-old Caleb Miller lined a hit to center field in the second inning of a Wellwood Little League game between the Angels and the Yankees on the evening of June 7, 1994. What with one problem or another in the outfield, Caleb found himself rounding third and on the way home.
Standing between Caleb and a home run was one of the smaller Angels, 4-foot-6-inch, 76-pound catcher Corey Gaber, also 9, who was waiting with the baseball in his mitt.
Caleb bowled Corey over with what some testified was a "perfect slide," and what others said was a "dirty slide." But in any case, Corey held on to the ball and Caleb was out.
Outraged was Dr. Gaber, Corey's father and manager of the Angels, who rushed onto the field and shouted, "That's my kid! You don't slide like that!"
Exactly what happened next is uncertain, but it was clear from testimony during a three-day trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court that Dr. Gaber took Caleb Miller by the shirt and threw some dirt. Alan Miller claimed in his suit that the dirt was thrown in his son's face; others testified that the dirt was thrown onto his chest, or neck, or the ground next to him.
Dr. Gaber immediately regained his composure and tried to apologize after another coach pulled the two apart, but his Little League managing career was over, and, as word got around in the community, his humiliation had begun.
The plaintiff's lawyer, David Kuryk, called Dr. Gaber's action "outrageous behavior" that would lead to "anarchy" if it wasn't challenged. "Little League baseball should be fun, not a nightmare," he said.
Andrew Graham, Dr. Gaber's lawyer, said the suit was "all about money" and that the matter should have been settled on the field with a handshake. "There was no injury, no intent, no malice, no reason to sue and put everyone through this," Mr. Graham said in his summation to the jury. "Dr. Gaber agrees that his behavior was inappropriate and that he was ashamed of it."
The jury agreed that Caleb Miller had been assaulted but indicated by its verdict that it was worth only $1 for assault and $1 for battery. Both sides said they were happy with the verdict.
"I'm happy that the jury found that Caleb was assaulted," Mr. Miller said.
"I'm glad for my parents sticking up for me," said his son, Caleb.
Dr. Gaber, on the verge of tears, said, "It was an appropriate verdict. I tried to apologize immediately. I want people to know I'm a kids' person and certainly wouldn't hurt one."