The timing is everything: The batter is on two strikes, calls time, steps out of the box, steps back in. The pitcher shakes off a dozen signs. You try to time your steps, slowing without stopping, pretending to check an invisible notification on your phone. You concentrate on the periphery, trying to look unnoticeable, trying to look sober. The batter strikes out looking and you’re six aisles from the front; they toss the ball around the horn but you are no longer looking. The loudspeaker ring of the gunshot is your starter. The usher has his head turned away, chatting with the kid holding a foul ball in the front row. And then.
And then you jump that ledge. It is a little bit of a leap to get down there. You land awkwardly, your weight forward, but you're on your feet quickly, running. The countdown to annihilation has begun. Tens of thousands of eyes are turned to you. Tens of thousands of people are screaming for you. You run. You have never felt more alive when you run, but that is because you are running for your life. It's mere moments, so fast that you don't have time to wonder if it's going in slow motion, and suddenly you are laying horizontal on the field, bits of dirt in your mouth and a knee squarely in your spine.
The adrenaline and the beer fade quickly. Being pinned to the ground by multiple people has a tendency to do that. There is no more escape. Only then the reality of the situation sets in. You now have a police escort. You are being carted off the field. Some people might still be cheering you, vicariously living through your foolhardiness, but most everyone else has settled back in to watch the game they paid to see. For a brief period of time, you were the main show, but now, you are nothing but an afterthought.
Nick Nestingen sat quietly at his post, silently hoping for extra-innings so he could make time and a half because of Labor Day. He didn’t quite get the paycheck boost that day, but he did get a little extra for his work that day.
"Suddenly the crowd is roaring and I see the guy in his American flag suit and a flag that might've said ‘Harambe for President’ taking off on the field," said Nick. "It was definitely shocking that someone would run out when there was maybe one or two pitches left until the game ended."
People who run out onto baseball fields are rather interesting cases. Storming the court is a long-standing student tradition during huge upsets in college basketball, and invading the pitch has long been a favorite activity of people wanting to kick a soccer ball or just be nude in public.
Baseball fans are different beasts, however, and this extends to their attempts to create a hullaballoo on the field. People tend to hop a fence, and run around in the endless expanse of the outfield before they are inevitably speared, tackled, suplexed, or DDTed by stadium security. The brave and the stupid tend to most often be male, either in college or not too far removed mentally from that time of their life, and under the influence of several adult beverages.
On Labor Day, with two outs in the ninth inning, someone made a run for it. He most likely originated from the left field foul pole, which coincidentally happens to be right next to The Pen. One thing the poor nameless man didn’t realize is that Nick played quarterback for his four years at UPS. Even though the man started out with a sizable lead, Nick was able to close the gap.
"While the distance between us was closing, it didn't really seem like it so I was taking a bit of a personal pride in thinking some slightly overweight fan in American flag suit was keeping pace with how fast I was running," said Nick. "One might say I really had my retired athlete crisis in those ten seconds I was chasing him."
One of the most common phrases you hear in football is "dangerous in the open field." This refers to the fact that someone with the ball and no one around them has 360 degrees to run around. A squirrel trapped in the corner is easier to trap because it has no where to go. A slightly overweight flag-wearing man in the expansive outfield of Safeco Field is a bit more unpredictable, or so you would think.
This guy was mostly sober, explained Nick. "I honestly expected him to make a move, but the thing about field runners is that they always disappoint you with their athletic abilities. He just kept trying to run straight ahead, so I tackled him."
Nick ended up protecting the safety of the Safeco outfield due to a sick employee. He started working there last season, but was initially working gate security. There is no such thing as applying to be field security, he said. So he initially spent his time listening to people crack tired TSA jokes and audibly wondering if the metal detectors were just for decoration. During an email with his boss about scheduling, he decided to be proactive and see if there was any opportunity for field-work. A few weeks later, his boss emailed him saying someone couldn’t work the field at the last minute and they needed Nick’s services.
"So there I was, standing on the field next to guys like Robbie Cano, Albert Pujols, and Mike freaking Trout," Nick recalled. "And of course, that night, a fan ran out on the field between innings. And I tackled him."
Nick has tackled a total of three people over his Safeco Field career. His collegiate career in football helped prep him for how to kill the carrier, and the training mostly involves knowing how to handle the situation and knowing where your help is on the field.
"That way the day Marshawn Lynch runs out there, we will know where we can get the extra ten guys to help bring him down," said Nick. "Luckily, drunk guys usually just take one of us. The overall goal is to get them to a point where the police can handcuff them and escort the offender off the field."
If you want a good run down of what happens to the offender after running on the field, I highly recommend reading this guy's account. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is: Don’t do it. At minimum, you are ejected from the game. At maximum, depending on the state, you can face charges of trespassing, and various other civil or criminal charges. Most importantly, your pride and your ego can get damaged. According to Nick, his first runner looked like he had hurt his knee leaping onto the field.
"There was such a tone of defeat in his voice when I caught him, that even though he was drunk, I think he realized he really didn’t get to make much of a show of things," said Nick. "It was all for nothing because nobody had time to get it on camera and put it on the Internet."
All three of Nick’s runners have been completely different situations, with the exact same result. His first day on the job was clobbering the drunk man. His second runner came earlier in July this year in a series against the Chicago White Sox. He just strolled onto the field and was shouting aimlessly at players, recalled Nick, and was on the field because Jesus Christ (and more presumably some mental illness) told him to be on the field that day.
"As the cops were taking him away he was asking them if they were going to behead him like David from the Bible," said Nick.
The one thing in common with all three, however, is that they were taken down by Nick, and all three came much easier than he thought they would.
"When you see a person, it is just a natural reaction to run after them and take the best route to track them down," said Nick. "Although I would add that taking good routes doesn’t come naturally to everyone in the outfield at Safeco."
In his short time at Safeco, Nick has already seemingly seen the gamut of various runners that are available. He hasn’t had the pleasure of tackling a nude person before, of which there have been some in Seattle. Clothes be damned, however, because the overall goal is still the same: crush dumbasses.
"While I have not had the unfortunate experience of encountering an actual streaker, we still need to get them in handcuffs so police can take them off the field," said Nick. "The only difference is someone will bring a towel to cover that person up where needed."