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Western League game turns ugly in Solano

Former major leaguer Kevin Mitchell was suspended after punching Solano Steelheads owner Bruce Portner

By Mark Derewicz

Former National League MVP Kevin Mitchell was suspended indefinitely pending investigation of an incident between the Sonoma County DH, Solano pitcher Jim Converse and Solano owner Bruce Portner.

Mitchell hit a home run in his first at-bat Tuesday but in the third inning, Solano launched three consecutive homers. Apparently, those homers offended Sonoma starting pitcher Nick Kast, who threw the next pitch behind Nate Vopata. Vopata did not charge the mound but both teams cleared the benches. Nothing happened then, aside from a little shouting.

In the fourth inning, though, Converse threw a pitch behind Mitchell. That's when things got out of hand. Mitchell charged Converse and landed a few blows. Mitchell, Converse and Solano catcher Roman Escamilla met at the mound, while the benches emptied again, this time to brawl. Oh, and keep in mind that Mithell tips the scales at 250-pounds (to be kind) while Converse is 5-foot-9, 180.

The umpires tried to restore order when an argument erupted between Sonoma players and Solano fans.

According to Portner, he was on the field to keep Sonoma players away from fans when he and Mitchell exchanged words. And this is where the truth becomes hard to determine. Depending on who you believe, Portner either simply asked for Mitchell's help in getting his teammates in the dugout, or Portner lambasted Mitchell for starting the brawl. Either way, there is no mistaking the fact that Mitchell hit Portner. According to reports, Mitchell had no idea who Portner was, which begs the question, "Is it okay to hit the trainer?"

Portner, who left with a black eye, said he expected Linscheid to remove Mitchell from the league forever.

"If he's not kicked out, I'll press criminal and civil charges against him and I'll sue Sonoma County," Portner said. "There's no way the league should condone violence."

In a strange twist, Converse's grandfather was video taping the game because Converse had just returned from the disabled list. He had no idea he'd watch his grandson get attacked by a fellow former major leaguer. The police and Linscheid reviewed the tape and Portner planned on releasing it to the local media.

"There's no question that Kevin was wrong," Sonoma owner Bob Fletcher said. "He should be fined and suspended for a number of games. This is sad because Kevin has been through a lot. He has battled diabetes. I've taken him to the hospital when he couldn't keep food down. He's gotten sick in the dugouts during games but no matter how bad he feels, he'll stand out there and sign autographs until there aren't any more to sign. He's been great all season. This is very sad."

Linscheid, who was not at the game, traveled to Solano to find out exactly what happened.

"Mitchell was suspended immediately pending further investigation," Linscheid said. "There's no question contact occurred. There's no question he charged the mound. Sonoma has agreed to the preliminary suspension and I should say that (Sonoma officials) participated in the decision. It's the upstanding thing to do when you think a player is wrong."

Mitchell and Converse were ejected but no other fines or suspensions were levied. Sonoma went on the win the game 10-8.

Sonoma was involved with a previous altercation at Yuma. According to Linscheid, an unruly fan was harassing Sonoma players who voiced their displeasure with the fan. There was no physical contact and Mitchell was not involved.

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