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Foul fan is forced into hiding by furor


CHICAGO - Cubs fan Steve Bartman was doing what any red-blooded baseball fan would have done when a foul ball came his way in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night.

But when he lunged for the ball and deflected it away from Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, his big night at the ballpark turned into a nightmare.

Bartman, whose name was withheld by Cubs security officials but was later published on the Chicago Sun-Times Web site, has gone into hiding. He did not show up at his job yesterday - by mutual agreement with the consulting firm where he works - and he avoided interview requests. He did, however, release a statement before last night's Game 7.

"I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play," Bartman said in a statement.

"Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching, I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way."

The strange play allowed Florida Marlins hitter Luis Castillo to remain at the plate and draw a walk from Cubs pitcher Mark Prior. The Marlins would erupt for eight runs to prevent the Cubs from clinching their first National League pennant since 1945, and Bartman had to be hustled out of the ballpark by several security officers for his own protection.

Alou was livid after umpire Mike Everitt failed to call fan interference, but his anger had subsided by the time he faced reporters after the game. He allowed that Bartman didn't do anything that any other fan wouldn't have done, but his opinion was not shared by everyone who was stinging after the frustrating defeat.

The governor of Illinois, Dan Blagojevich, told the Sun-Times that he might have to put Bartman in the witness protection program, and joked that if the 26-year-old fan ever committed a crime, he would have no hope of a pardon from the governor's office.

"You've got to be looking out for your team," Blagojevich said.

The Sun-Times also published testimonials from friends and family, portraying Bartman as a big Cubs fan who coaches Little League in his spare time. No doubt, Bartman was somewhere watching Game 7 and hoping that the Cubs would get him off the hook.

The Associated Press reported that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said an offer of asylum might be a good idea, and an oceanfront retreat in Pompano Beach is offering the man a free three-month stay, should he want to get out of Chicago.

Bartman also would receive free airfare and other perks - including steak dinners and even a water taxi ride - should he fly south for the winter.

"They've got the curse of a goat or something, right?" said Gerardo Pena, 40, a Marlins fan from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. "I guess this guy is their new goat."

Game 5 revisited

The incident down the left-field line evoked memories of 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier helping the New York Yankees defeat the Orioles in the 1996 American League Championship Series, but Cubs fans saw a better parallel with the 1984 NLCS.

The Cubs had a 3-0 lead and top pitcher Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, before the San Diego Padres took advantage of an infield error by Leon Durham to come back and win the opportunity to get crushed by the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Reversing the curse

Sam Sianis, the owner of the famous Billy Goat Tavern, brought a goat to Wrigley Field yesterday in an attempt to lift the curse that was placed on the Cubs by his uncle Bill in 1945.

Bill Sianis supposedly placed the curse on the Cubs after he and his billy goat were ejected from the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Tigers. Sam Sianis also was invited to Wrigley Field during the 1984 NLCS, but the team's bad fortune continued.

No getting McKeon's goat

Marlins manager Jack McKeon denied a rumor that he went to lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern, which was satirized in the recurring 'Cheeburger, Cheeburger' skits on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s.

"I don't even know where the Billy Goat Tavern is," McKeon said yesterday. "I've got enough goats to worry about back in North Carolina."

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