'A good kid' gets in the way

You're a Cubs fan and you're out of sorts. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou was about to catch Luis Castillo's foul fly for a crucial out during the pivotal eighth inning of Tuesday night's Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

Then this spectator down the left-field line reached out from his seat and got his hand on the ball before Alou could. Still alive, Castillo walked and the Marlins, who entered the top of the eighth down 3-0 to Cubs ace Mark Prior, scored eight runs in the inning to win 8-3 and force a Game 7.

You should know that this spectator is also a Cubs fan, a diehard Cubs fan, according to those who know him, a good guy and an outstanding youth baseball coach. Just another anonymous guy until the Chicago Sun-Times named him in Wednesday's editions.

Now everybody in Chicago knows that he's Steve Bartman, 26, of Northbrook, Ill., and that he works at Hewitt Associates, an international consulting firm in Lincolnshire, Ill. And, now they know that because of the notoriety of his inadvertent act, he did not report to work Wednesday morning.

Last seen, as the Marlins ralllied, security guards were escorting Bartman out of the park. He threw a jacket over his face for protection, but not before other fans hurled beers at him.

"You cost us the World Series!" one fan yelled at him. Some chanted "Kill him!"

Friends and a neighbor defended Bartman, saying what he did when the foul ball came his way was a natural reaction.

"He's a huge Cubs fan," said a man who responded to "Mr. Bartman" when queried by the newspaper. "I'm sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him."

The man declined to continue speaking to the Sun-Times and would not confirm what relation he is to Steve Bartman.

A neighbor, Ron Cohen, and others said Bartman graduated from Notre Dame and now coaches the Renegades, an elite youth baseball team in Niles, Ill. Bartman was wearing a Renegades T-shirt for Game 6, which helped Cohen recognize him from television replays.

Cohen, 63, told the Sun-Times he was watching the game on TV with his son, who grew up with "Stevie," when they realized it was Bartman who was then catching the ire of Alou.

"I really was just surprised," said Cohen, who told the paper he called Bartman's mother. "I think it's just a natural tendency. Everybody reaches. I'm not trying to defend him, but I think it's just a natural tendency. He may not have seen Alou coming."

Cohen described Bartman as a "baseball fanatic."

"He's a good kid, a wonderful son, never in any trouble," Cohen told the Sun-Times. "I don't think he should be blamed at all. People reach for balls. This just happened to be a little more critical. If Florida didn't score all the runs, you wouldn't be standing here."

Cohen's description of Bartman was echoed by a parent whose son played baseball for the Renegades last year.

"He was a fine guy. He was a good baseball coach to my son," Roger Shimanovsky, 41, said. "Believe me, I'm sure nobody feels worse about this than him."

Outside Wrigley Field after Tuesday's game, Cubs fans were trying to digest what had happened to their beloved team. The Cubs last reached the World Series in 1945 and haven't won a title since 1908.

"I'm so depressed. I'm going to cry," 21-year-old Heather Swanson said.

"If Alou had been able to catch that one ball ... I really
thought they were going to do it," said Joanne Dexheimer, 47.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.