Rangers fan showered by others' good will

Updated: June 17, 2004, 1:14 AM ET
Associated Press

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    ARLINGTON, Texas -- A 4-year-old boy who lost a foul ball to a not-so-grown-up adult is getting a windfall worthy of a game-winning home run hitter -- and now he'll get that ball, too.

    Nicholas O'Brien
    Nick O'Brien is held by his mother Edie after losing out on a foul ball Sunday during the Rangers-Cardinals game. Between innings, St. Louis' Reggie Sanders gave Nick a bat and ball.

    Matt Starr, who was sitting behind Nick O'Brien at a Texas Rangers baseball game Sunday knocked the boy against the seats as he dived to get a foul ball. Fans started chanting "Give him the ball!" but Starr wouldn't give it up.

    He changed his mind Wednesday.

    Starr has also agreed to send a letter of apology to the family of Nick O'Brien and buy his family tickets to future Texas Rangers games, club official John Blake said Wednesday.

    "The fan let it be known to us that he wanted to give the ball back, and we informed the family that it indeed is going to happen," said Blake, Rangers senior vice president.

    Another club spokesman, Gregg Elkin, said the Rangers did not orchestrate Starr's decision.

    "He did this on his own, through an intermediary," Elkin said. "Someone that knows him said, 'hey, he wants to do this, can you help him get it to the O'Briens,' and that's all we're doing."

    O'Brien's mom was surprised by the behavior at the game.

    "I couldn't believe someone would do something like that to a 4-year-old boy," said Nick's mother, Edie O'Brien.

    O'Brien said she swatted Starr with a cardboard fan and called him a jerk, among other names. "I said, 'You trampled a 4-year-old boy to get this ball,' and he said, 'Oh, well,' " she told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, adding that the man seemed proud he got the ball.

    Video shows Nick was standing up as Starr dived across the boy's seat to grab the ball at Nick's feet. Starr's leg strikes the boy, and the boy is jostled a second time as the man stands up with the ball and appears to exchange words with the mother.

    Nick wasn't hurt, but fan outrage mushroomed, and even Rangers announcer Tom Grieve voiced his disapproval on TV, calling Starr "the biggest jerk in this park." Starr and a woman with him left before the game was over.

    Meanwhile, the Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals quickly made sure Nick got souvenirs of his own -- two bats and four baseballs, including one signed by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, a former Ranger.

    Cardinals outfielder Reggie Sanders came out between innings to give Nick a bat and ball. "In my heart, I thought I should do something," said Sanders. "It's all about the kids."

    The Dallas Morning News identified Starr, a married, 28-year-old landscaper and former youth minister. Starr did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

    Starr is "not the bad guy he's been made out to be," said Rick DuBose, senior pastor of the Sachse Assembly of God Church. "He probably got a little aggressive and did something he regrets. But that's not Matt. He's a good kid, a good young man."

    On "Good Morning America," host Charles Gibson gave the O'Briens more souvenirs Wednesday -- this time from the New York Mets. The family got tickets to Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Indians.

    "Wow," Nick responded.

    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press