The Ejected Groundskeeper
Part five of our Minor League Memories feature brings us back a few years to 2003 and a night that will live in baseball lore.
The BlueClaws were playing Kannapolis wrapping up a week of rain delays and wet weather. With both teams eliminated from the first-half race, the game meant nothing to either side, and the ominous looking skies meant there was a pretty good chance they were not going to finish the game anyway. Bill Butler, then the BlueClaws groundskeeper, was ready.
“Both managers said that once we got to the fifth inning they wanted the tarp on the field,” said Butler. “They were worried someone was going to get hurt.”
It was pouring by the fourth inning, but the BlueClaws took the lead, and then got three outs in the fifth, making the game official. But the umpires refused to put the tarp on.
“A few batters were hit,” said Butler. “Then someone threw a ball into the stands, slipped right out of their fingers. The ball was soaked.”
BlueClaws Asst GM Brandon Marano was waiting in the tunnel to help put the tarp on the field. “I see Bill go right out there, during play, with a printout of the radar. I’m thinking, ‘Here we go.'”
“I told them there’s no window at all,” said Butler. “He said ‘I don’t want you out here’ and I told them that someone was going to get hurt.”
Words escalated, and then Bill Butler became the first groundskeeper to be ejected from a professional baseball game.
“Bill started arguing and jawing with the umpires,” said Marano. “I go out there and I’m grabbing him, and pulling him back towards the dugout. It was crazy.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” said Butler. “I was just trying to do the right thing.”
The BlueClaws received unprecedented attention, with stories written up from Florida to Alaska. ESPN-tv, ESPN the Magazine, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated were among those that covered the one-of-a-kind event.
“A lot of people are not going to believe this,” Butler said at the time. “I’m not sure I do now.”