Jose Offerman bat attack victim tells story of a baseball dream derailed
JUL 30, 2014 4:46p ET
Former minor league catcher Johnathan Nathans received a bit of closure Tuesday, seven years after Jose Offerman ended his baseball career in a brawl during an independent league baseball game, when a Connecticut jury awarded him $940,000 in damages in response to a civil suit.
For Nathans, though, the nearly $1 million verdict does little to abate the physical toll the attack has taken on him in the years since Offerman, a two-time All-Star infielder, charged the mound and hit Nathans in the head with a bat.
In addition to the physical, vestibular and vision therapy Nathans has received for the last several years — treatment his doctors tell him he will likely always have to undergo — Nathans, who was originally seeking $4.8 million, says he still deals with regular dizziness, vomiting and severe headaches, all common post-concussion symptoms.
Nathans also told FOX Sports he has concerns over whether Offerman, who made an estimated $32 million during his 15-year big league career, will pay the damages awarded by the seven-person jury.
"(People say) it kind of brings the story to a close, but really it does and it doesn't," Nathans said Wednesday in a phone interview. "Because now, the second chapter of this story is that Jose Offerman has denied responsibility for seven years and has sort of been avoiding this every possible way he could, and now the jury has spoken and awarded us the damages that they have.
"Is he going to step up and take responsibility and pay those damages, or is he, again, going to go on the run? Is he going to avoid them again? Is he going to avoid taking responsibility again? Because that's sort of been his tendency in the past."
The attack happened during the second inning of a game between Offerman's Long Island Ducks and Nathans' Bridgeport Bluefish on Aug. 14, 2007.
Offerman, who was trying to resurrect his career after two years out of the majors, hit a leadoff home run during his first at-bat, and was then hit in the leg by an off-speed pitch his next time up.
Offerman responded by charging the mound with his bat in his right hand, and then started swinging at Nathans and Bluefish pitcher Matt Beech, who broke a finger on his non-throwing hand in the melee.
"It was one of those moments that you want to forget," Offerman told the Connecticut Post after the incident. "I lost it for about 10 seconds. That's what happened to me. I didn't have any intentions and I feel sorry for what happened and the way it happened."
Nathans initially attempted to stay in the game after the incident but was removed due to nausea. He later collapsed in the dugout and was taken to a nearby hospital. Offerman was ejected from the game, suspended from the league and later arrested, but when the civil case was finally heard, Nathans says he felt like there were times when he was the one on trial.
“I lost it for about 10 seconds. That's what happened to me. I didn't have any intentions and I feel sorry for what happened and the way it happened.”
"I left the game on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, and that was the last game I ever played," Nathans said. "I have suffered permanent, life-altering injuries ... the tactic by the defense was a real character assassination on me, and I think that the jury's award of damages was a rejection of that tactic.
"It affirmed, in my mind at least, the serious injuries that all of my doctors were testifying to — the vestibular damage and all of the life-altering injuries that I've suffered. It was sort of confirmation for me, and hopefully to everybody else watching, that I am a person of my word and that this incident really did happen, despite what the Long Island Ducks and despite what Jose Offerman would have you believe."
Offerman previously faced felony assault charges in the case in addition to the civil suit, but the former were later dismissed after Offerman completed an accelerated rehabilitation program. Offerman declined comment through his attorney, Frank Riccio II, but Riccio told FOX Sports he did not agree with the jury's decision in the civil case, because Offerman, he says, was not found to have committed battery on Nathans.
"Surprised is one way to state it," Riccio said in a phone interview. "Curious was also another way to describe it, because what the jury said through their verdict was that, while they believe that an assault took place — which is the apprehension, the fear of immediately getting hit — they didn't find that he hit him. ... So then the question, in my view, becomes, how, then, is Mr. Offerman responsible for this award of damages?"
“Was he faking it? I'm not saying that, and I would never suggest that. Mr. Nathans seems to be a polite young man, and it was never suggested that he was faking it. But it's odd. There were some oddities.”
Riccio said he is pursuing further litigation to have the verdict set aside, and that he believes there is no definitive proof that it was Offerman who caused Nathans' injuries.
"There was the initial incident where Jose ran out to the mound, and then there were some beefs and fights and bench clearing brawl-type stuff that happened immediately after," Riccio said. "So we don't really know when it happened, especially given the jury verdict, we don't know when he could have gotten hurt."
During his testimony, however, Beech, the pitcher on the mound during the attack, said he was sure Offerman hit Nathans with the bat, telling the jury, "It made a pretty loud 'whack' when it hit (Nathans') head," according to The Associated Press. Riccio, however, said the timing of Nathans' injury was less certain.
"Was he faking it? I'm not saying that, and I would never suggest that," Offerman's attorney said. "Mr. Nathans seems to be a polite young man, and it was never suggested that he was faking it. But it's odd. There were some oddities."
Aside from the physical impact the attack had on Nathans, the fact that his injuries ended his playing career also took a severe emotional toll. Nathans, who played at the University of Richmond, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Red Sox in 2001 and reached the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs before bouncing around the Atlantic League, where he was hitting .200 with two homers and 24 RBI for the Bluefish at the time of the injury.
"You don't train and commit as much of your life to the game as I did and not love it, because you're not getting paid a tremendous amount of money in the minor leagues, and you're definitely not making a tremendous amount of money playing independent baseball, which is where I was (at the time of the attack)," Nathans said.
"You're doing it for other reasons: One, because you believe that you can make it to the Major Leagues, and two, because that's your passion, that's your love.
"So when that was taken away from me, no doubt, I lost my identity in some respects, because I had always had that as my driving focus in life. That was my single focus from the time I was five years old. I wanted to play professional baseball, and I was one of the lucky people who had the opportunity to do that. ... So when that was taken away from me — not on my terms, but on Jose Offerman's terms, when he decided to hit me in the head with a bat — it was devastating."
Eventually, though, Nathans was able to "pick up the pieces," as he puts it, and started to pursue another path. In 2009, Nathans attended law school at the University of Maine, and after graduating in 2012, he passed the bar exam in Maine and Massachusetts. He worked for a year as a law clerk in the Maine superior court and is now an attorney at a firm in Portland.
Nathans says there have been times when his injuries sidelined his efforts in the law field — like when he got dizzy and sick while taking the LSAT — but he says the continued therapy, medications and his own perseverance have allowed him to succeed in his new career.
"I think my training as an athlete prepared me for the practice of law," Nathans said. "One of the things that's great about baseball is that it really is a marathon of a sport. You have to grind it out every single day, you have to show up to the park every single day, and you're going to have days where you don't feel good when you show up to the field, but you've still got to put on the uniform, you've still got to perform, and you've still got to get yourself prepared to play the game.
"I don't think the practice of law is all that different. I have days where I feel better than others, but I still need to put on the uniform, show up to work, and I have clients who are relying on me and my services. ... There's no doubt that at times I wondered whether or not I could do it, but in the end it came down to (the fact that) Jose Offerman ended my baseball career, and I wasn't going to let him take any other day of my life, and this was a way of me sort of reclaiming my identity and taking my life back."
The most interesting aspect of Nathans' recovery, perhaps, is how little he laments his decision to try to get between Offerman and Beech that August day. Nathans even goes as far as to say that he would do it again if he had the chance.
"I don't regret it for a moment, and I think any catcher who has ever played the game would tell you that you have a responsibility in those situations to take care of your pitcher, to take care of your teammate," Nathans said. "I think that's what we all tried to do, and it's unfortunate that I got hurt as bad as I did, and it's even more unfortunate that Mr. Offerman has not stepped up to the plate and taken responsibility for his actions."
“To be honest with you, I don't spend a lot of my time or my life thinking about what I would say to Jose Offerman or what he would say to me.”
And while he has never gotten an apology from Offerman for the attack that ended his career, nor does he expect to get one anytime soon, Nathans says he's willing to talk if Offerman, now managing in the same Dominican League where he confronted and swung at an umpire in 2010, is interested.
"To be honest with you, I don't spend a lot of my time or my life thinking about what I would say to Jose Offerman or what he would say to me," Nathans said. "I've got a great family, a great job, and those are the things I'm focused on. I'm just not concerned with how he feels about me or what he would say because it just doesn't matter. It's of no concern.
"But if he wanted to have that discussion, if he wanted to open up and sit down man-to-man and talk about the incident, of course I would. People have forgiven people for way worse things than what Jose Offerman did to me and Matt Beech, so there's no reason for me to believe that I couldn't do the same."
Said Offerman's attorney, Riccio, of a possible meeting: "They were in the same room for the past two weeks in court, and they didn't communicate but they were cordial to each other. I don't know what the future will hold as far as that's concerned, but I think what they would both agree upon is that this was a regrettable incident and that (they wish) it never happened."