It was the advent of summer in the suburbs, and, the way it was told in court yesterday, the Little League parents in Fairfax County were going at it.
The father of a 12-year-old second baseman carried an aluminum baseball bat. The father of an umpire pitched fists. The parents of the team members circled around what turned into a bloody spectacle, frantic and acting like weekend Billy Martins in a parking lot near a baseball field at Westgate Elementary School in Falls Church.
When it was done, the second baseman's father, Floyd E. Foley, filed a complaint with the county police against the umpire, Richard Sullivan, 26, and his father, Willie Lee Sullivan, 62, each of whom was charged with misdemeanor assault.
In June, a District Court judge convicted both men, fined them $250 each, and told them they would either have to quit Little League for a year or spend 30 days in jail. Yesterday, after both sides told their stories again to another judge in a higher court, the umpire and his father were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Jamborsky determined that defense attorneys had raised a reasonable possibility that the Sullivans were either defending themselves or defending each other--as relatives--which would warrant their acquittal under Virginia law.
"It was the bane of summertime in the suburbs--a Little League baseball game that incited what was virtually a riot," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stephen H. Moriarty in his opening statement yesterday.
For 3 1/2 hours, a parade of witnesses told Jamborsky conflicting versions about what happened on the evening of May 17.
According to several witnesses, the ruckus began in the second inning, when young Mark Foley complained to his father that Glenn Booth and Gerry Goldberg, coaches of the Shamrocks, had forbidden him to use the bat the elder Foley had bought him the night before because it was too long.
Booth testified that Foley also accused the coaches of calling his son "a loser."
As soon as the game ended (the Shamrocks lost 2-1 to the Movers), the elder Foley, highly agitated, according to testimony, walked to the dugout, bat in hand, cursing loudly at the coaches.
"He was uncontrollable. He was gone," Booth testified.
"I didn't then and I don't ever use profanity," Foley testified. He also told Jamborsky that he never raised the bat with the intent of hitting anyone.
Foley said he was "upset, but in control of my temper," and that he was merely going to the dugout to tell the coach "not to coach my son anymore, not to talk to my son anymore."
James Armstrong, whose son plays for the Shamrocks, testified that he approached Foley, telling him repeatedly that his behavior in front of the children was "unbelievable."
Armstrong told the judge that Foley cursed at him, and Armstrong acknowledged that he argued back.
Another parent, Jackie Booth, the coach's wife, testified that she became alarmed at the escalation and ran toward the hot dog stand for help. There, Booth said, she found Richard Sullivan, an off-duty umpire.
"I dropped my hot dog, and as I approached, I heard Foley's language. There were a lot of kids around, so I figured that was enough," Sullivan testified. He said he told Foley to leave the field.
Foley testified that he told Sullivan "You're not big enough to make me leave." The men squared off with Foley still holding the bat, according to witnesses. A crowd gathered, witnesses said.
Sullivan, worried about the bat, testified that he reached for Foley's wrist. Sullivan's father, Willie Lee Sullivan, testified that he threw a right cross at Foley. According to defense witnesses, the punch landed on Foley's jaw, neck or chest. But Willie Lee Sullivan testified, "I don't remember if I hit him or not, but I pushed him over to the side."
Richard Sullivan testified that he then punched Foley three more times in the face. Then he testified he snatched the bat from Foley. Foley's wife, Phyllis Foley, testified that she then snatched Foley from the scuffle.
"Blood was pouring down the side of his face and onto his jacket," Phyllis Foley testified. "I realized I had to get him home because he was bleeding profusely."
"I'm really genuinely sorry that people got mixed up in a mess like this," Jamborsky said as he announced his decision. "There is an element of tragedy in it."