Magistrate to decide whether case continues

Updated: December 12, 2003, 4:35 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Conflicting accounts were given at a hearing Friday about a fight involving two New York Yankees and a groundskeeper at a Fenway Park playoff game. Another hearing was scheduled for Dec. 17 to decide if charges will be filed.

Reliever Jeff Nelson testified that Paul Williams provoked the fight with him and right fielder Karim Garcia. Neslon said Williams bumped him and spit in his face after the pitcher asked him to stop cheering the Red Sox in the New York bullpen.

But Williams, a part-time groundskeeper, said he was assaulted by the players during New York's 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the AL championship series on Oct. 11.

Garcia waived his right to appear at the Roxbury District Court hearing. He jumped the outfield wall into the bullpen after the fight between Nelson and Williams began. Williams did not discuss Garcia in his testimony.

Clerk magistrate Michael Neighbors will decide if he found probable cause to charge Nelson and Garcia with assault and battery. He will also consider a complaint filed by Nelson's lawyer seeking countercharges against Williams.

The fight followed a bench-clearing melee. Williams, a middle school teacher, was treated at a hospital and released wearing a neck brace.

Boston Police Det. Matthew Tierney testified that several witnesses said Nelson was the aggressor but acknowledged none of them saw who threw the first punch.

Nelson said Williams had been waving a rally towel for three innings when he asked him to go elsewhere to cheer. The pitcher denied punching or kicking Williams.

"When I pushed him back, he turned and swung at me," he said. "I ducked and he missed and he tried coming back at me."

Williams said he was kicked and punched for no good reason.

"I don't think cheering for a team is provoking an assault," Williams said.

Williams said in the ninth inning he started to wave his rally towel. He looked into the stands and gave a double wave with the towel. When he turned back, he said, "Mr. Nelson was in my face at this point. ... The bill of his hat bumped me in the head."

Nelson, Williams said, then launched into a profanity-laced tirade and told him not to cheer the Red Sox in the Yankee bullpen.

The fight lasted 30 to 40 seconds, Williams said. He said that after police broke up the fight he asked that a tape from a bullpen surveillance camera be saved. But the camera wasn't taping at the time.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press