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Updated: T-Ball coach put out $25 hit on disabled kid


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Updated: Sep. 11, 2006, 7:02 PM ET

T-ball coach to stand trial for $25 offer to bean player

Associated Press


PITTSBURGH -- A T-ball coach accused of offering an 8-year-old boy $25 to bean a disabled teammate is unlikely to receive a fair trial because of intense media coverage, the man's lawyer said.


Mark R. Downs Jr., 29, of Dunbar, was scheduled to go on trial Tuesday in Fayette County on a string of charges, including solicitation, corruption of minors and reckless endangerment. He refused a plea agreement in December.


The charges against Downs drew the attention of media outlets around the world. Many columnists expressed disgust at what they considered adult corruption of a child's sport.


"We feel he's been persecuted by the media," defense attorney Thomas Shaffer said. "[The case] was on from the nightly news in Japan to every syndicated network broadcast across the country."


Prosecutors have argued that Downs did not want Harry Bowers Jr., then 9, to play in a June 2005 T-ball playoff game because the boy wasn't as good as his teammates. Bowers has autism and mild mental retardation.


Keith Reese, 8 at the time, testified at a preliminary hearing that he hit Bowers with baseballs first in the groin and later in the ear. Reese said he did it because Downs offered him $25 to make sure Bowers wouldn't be able to play.


League rules require each player to play at least three innings.


Prosecutors did not return several phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment on the start of the trial.


Shaffer said Downs had joked at another game about paying players to hit an umpire with a ball. His words were later taken out of context and used against him by Reese, Shaffer said.


Bowers was hit because he misplayed balls while warming up with Reese, Shaffer said.


"[bowers] was terrible. ... It's not like he got blinded-sided," Shaffer said. "He put his glove up, he missed it and it went off his glove and hit him."


The Falcons, the team Downs coached, are part of the R.W. Clark Youth Baseball League. Bowers was hurt before a game in North Union Township, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.


League officials have said they investigated the matter and could not confirm whether Downs had done anything wrong. But they said he wouldn't be allowed to coach again if he were convicted of criminal charges.


"He didn't ask to return, which was a good thing," said Eric Forsythe, president of the league. "I'm just curious to see what comes out in trial."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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Two things:


1) How do you get beaned in a T-BALL game?


2) If he did get beaned, it wouldn't be by anything more than a whopping 23mph fastball.


3) This gets chalked up under the "moments you laugh at, but other people think you're sick" section.


4) If it was my kid, I would have kicked the coaches ass.


Okay, so that was four things, not two.

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  • 4 weeks later...

A youth baseball coach accused of offering an 8-year-old money to bean an autistic teammate so he couldn't play was sentenced Thursday to one to six years in prison.


Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman sentenced Mark R. Downs Jr., 29, of Dunbar, Pa., to consecutive six- to 36-month sentences for corruption of minors and criminal solicitation to commit simple assault. A jury convicted Downs in September.


Warman revoked Downs' bond and sent him to prison.


Downs didn't speak at the sentencing but told reporters, "I didn't do nothing," as he was led out of the courtroom.


His attorney, Thomas Shaffer, said Downs was upset and looked forward to appealing the verdict. Downs was ordered Thursday to undergo a mental health evaluation and barred from coaching any youth league sport while on parole.


Authorities said Downs offered to pay one of his players $25 to hit Harry Bowers, a mildly autistic teammate, with a ball while warming up before a June 2005 playoff game. Prosecutors said Downs wanted the 9-year-old out of the game, because the boy didn't play as well as his teammates.


Player Keith Reese Jr. said he purposely threw a ball that hit Bowers in the groin and another that hit Bowers in the ear, on Downs' instructions. Downs denied offering to pay Reese to hurt Bowers.


"These acts are extremely outrageous and extremely reprehensible since the defendant was involved in the coaching of a youth league," Warman said.


Bowers' mother, Jennifer Bowers, said Thursday that since her son was hit, she has struggled to get him to try new activities. She said the boy fears that he would get hurt again.


Downs was acquitted on a more serious charge of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault. Jurors deadlocked on a charge of reckless endangerment. The judge declared a mistrial on the endangerment charge, and prosecutors said they wouldn't retry him.


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