The Peoria Chiefs expected to make national news in July. They did not expect to make it like this.
On July 29, the Chiefs are slated to play the Kane County Cougars in an unprecedented Minor League game at Wrigley Field. The contest is expected to shatter the Midwest League single-game attendance record, and Peoria manager Ryne Sandberg will be making his first return to Wrigley in uniform since retirement.
However, a dark cloud will surely be above Wrigley on Tuesday, as Peoria will still be waiting word from the league on which players will be suspended as a result of a bench-clearing brawl with the Dayton Dragons on July 24. Seven Chiefs players were ejected -- in addition to nine Dragons -- before Midwest League President George Spelius was forced to reinstate them for the purpose of finishing the game.
"I've had a lot of bench clearing in my 22 years as President -- but not this many in one bench clearing," said Spelius. "Sixteen players, a manager, a coach ... that's a lot of people."
Peoria pitcher Julio Castillo was arraigned on felony assault charges Friday after firing a ball toward the Dayton dugout. The ball ricocheted and struck Dayton fan Chris McCarthy in the head. McCarthy, 44, of Middletown, Ohio, was taken to an Miami Valley Hospital, while Castillo was booked at Montgomery County Jail at 9:35 p.m. Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are also poised to levy their own discipline.
"We'll make sure the punishment fits the crime," said Oneri Fleita, vice president of player personnel. "These things are not condoned by the organization.
"I can assure you, it's not tolerated and not condoned," Fleita said. "We're trying to develop winning type players, and those actions are not those of winning players."
The game, which ended in a 6-5 Dayton win, had escalated to violence prior to Castillo's criminal actions. After Chiefs shortstop Nate Samson was hit by a pitch in the game's second plate appearance, Castillo responded by plunking Dayton shortstop Zach Cozart in the bottom half of the inning. Cozart was forced to leave the game. On the next play, a ground ball caused Castillo to collide with teammate Gian Guzman, who broke his leg as a result.
A second hit batsman in the inning, Dayton second baseman Angel Cabrera, would put the fight into motion with a hard slide into second base on the next play. Interim Peoria manager Carmelo Martinez left the dugout to complain, ending in an argument with Dayton manager Donnie Scott. Benches cleared after Martinez shoved Scott, and Castillo attempted to throw a ball into the Dayton dugout within seconds of the managers' physical confrontation.
Midwest League servers went down on Friday morning, further delaying the league's ability to review umpire's reports and film. Spelius will talk to both organizations' farm directors, in addition to Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Connor, before making specific suspensions.
"People are asking me, 'are you going to have this sorted out by this afternoon?' Is the pope going to get married this afternoon?" Spelius said. "It'll probably be next week."
Peoria was without manager Ryne Sandberg for the game, who left the team Sunday for an event in Chicago as well as Hall of Fame festivities in Cooperstown, New York. Sandberg was not expected to join the team again until Monday. The Hall of Fame skipper has been ejected seven times in two seasons with the Chiefs, including three times this season. Sandberg served a three-game suspension in May for confronting Clinton manager Mike Micucci. At the time, he received full backing for his actions in confronting Micucci from Fleita.
"It was verbal, nothing more," Fleita said in May. "It's not a big deal to me. Defending his players is what a manager is supposed to do."
Carmelo Martinez will undoubtedly become the second Peoria manager to face suspension this season. The former Cub and nine-year Major League veteran was expected to be in Wrigley for the Chiefs game against Kane County on Tuesday. Martinez had served as the Cubs' Latin American field coordinator before filling in for Sandberg this week.
Oddly enough, Martinez and Dayton manager Donnie Scott had a history together. Both players were members of the 1991 Cincinnati Reds, playing together from August to October. This is Scott's fifth season managing the Dragons, and eighth as a coach.
In total, the former teammates joined 16 other players in ejection. However, the ejections would have forced both teams to insert pitchers in the outfield, so the Cubs and Reds organizations -- in conjunction with Spelius -- briefly reinstated the players and managers.
Spelius said that all the fines handed out as a result of the fight will be divided equally between the Midwest League's 14 teams and given to a charity within each community, as the league tries to make some good out of an unfortunate event.