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Baseball Coach Wins 7-Year Legal Fight After Being Sued by Player He Told To Slide

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A personal confession to Western Journal readers: I was a terrible Little League player.

In my final season, I hit a solid .000.

I was a fast runner and an adept base-stealer, however, so I learned how to crouch at the plate and get on base a lot. It didn’t hurt that this was still at the point where pitchers had yet to develop control, so while I didn’t get a single hit all season I also had the fewest strikeouts on the squad and led the team in stolen bases.

I was like Rickey Henderson without any of his other discernible talents, including referring to myself in the third person. (C. Douglas couldn’t just get himself from first to second relatively easily, he could get himself from second to third in a pinch. Heck, C. Douglas even stole home once or twice. That’s how good C. Douglas was at stealing bases.)

While I never quite mastered illeism, I did get pretty good at sliding. If you were a base-stealer, that’s a talent you had to have. Before I decided to take my talents to rec basketball, where I was a proficient-ish power forward, I got pretty good at learning how to slide. That’s what you had to do. I suffered a sprained ankle or two, but thems were the breaks. That’s how Little League worked.

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Little did I know I could actually sue. If only young C. Douglas knew this! There was a decent chance I could have made some money off the whole deal. I could have potentially transmuted those frozen March late-afternoon practices trying desperately to hit a baseball (and the excruciating ping of the cold aluminum bat when I finally succeeded) into some cold hard cash if I’d just managed to break something or tear a tendon.

I mean, sure, serious injury stinks, but at least it would have gotten me out of those 30-degree practices. When I eventually did suffer a compound fracture, I spent three weeks home from school playing “Tetris,” “Super Mario 3” and the criminally underrated “Vice: Project Doom” on my Nintendo while under the influence of Tylenol-3 (for a short enough period of time and at a dose low enough to avoid the risk of chemical dependency, I will note). Aside from the fact it derailed my youth basketball career, please explain to me the downside to this.

Unfortunately, for Jake Mesar, the implications of his injury were a bit more severe — and yet, the implications of his lawsuit could have essentially ended youth sports as we know it if he had succeeded.

Yes, the repercussions of what happened were long-lasting and brutal. His lawsuit, however, was still insupportable and dangerous, something that would have been risible had the ramifications not been so serious. In the process, it cost a teacher years of his life in a courtroom as well as his reputation.

In 2012, according to NJ Advance Media, middle school teacher John Suk, coaching the junior varsity baseball team at Bound Brook High School in New Jersey, ordered Mesar to slide into third while his team was leading 6-0 in a game at Gill St. Bernard’s School in order to stretch a hit into a triple. Mesar would roll his ankle, which ended with a serious break.

“Even after three surgeries, the ankle was not improving — one doctor even presented amputation as a possible outcome,” NJ Advance Media’s Steve Politi wrote. “A specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Robert Rozbruch, found post-traumatic arthritis and signs of necrosis — evidence the bone was dying.

“Mesar needed two more surgeries, including one to inject stem cells into the ankle tissue, and he was fit with an external fixator, a stabilizing frame to keep the bones properly positioned.”

Doctors said he would never recover fully. And the injury took a mental toll as well.

“It is more than a physical injury,” Politi wrote. “Mesar has endured frequent bouts of depression and a pair of panic attacks, including one that sent him from a family party on Christmas Eve to the emergency room.”

All of this is pretty awful. As someone who suffers from anxiety attacks and who has dealt with depression in the past, I know the pain. An “apparently promising athletic career” being over at age 15 can be brutal.

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It’s also happened to numerous other players. Mesar’s parents also allowed him to sign up for high school sports, so surely they would realize their role in what happened, right?

Of course they didn’t. Instead, what they tried to do is ruin John Suk’s life.

“John Suk sits with shoulders slouched and his head down at the defendant’s table in Courtroom 301, a stuffy wood-paneled space inside the Somerset County judicial complex,” Politi wrote.

“The 31-year-old middle school teacher scribbles in a notebook as his reputation is shredded.

“The plaintiff’s attorneys in Civil Docket No. L-000629-15 have spent two full days portraying the co-defendant as an inattentive and unqualified lout. He is, they argue, a villain who destroyed the future of a teenager he was supposed to protect.

“‘He must be held accountable for what he did,’ one of the plaintiff’s two attorneys tells jurors during opening arguments.”

While the injury occurred in 2012, Suk wasn’t named in the suit until 2015. Since then, his life has been made a living hell by attorneys who — in Politi’s telling — seem not to have known baseball from cricket or purposely confused the two.

“As I watch this unfold from the nearly empty gallery, I first am overcome with the ridiculousness of the scene,” he wrote. “I chuckle when the words ‘bang-bang play’ became courthouse vernacular, grimace when the quality of an opposing JV team is attacked as ‘awful,’ and marvel at the surreal image of an attorney labeling a crude drawing of a baseball diamond as ‘Defense Exhibit 1.’

“I had come to Somerville ready to ridicule, but it doesn’t take long for the gravity of the situation to hit me. If this jury of four men and four women decides Suk was reckless as a third-base coach for making this most routine decision, who else will end up in a courtroom like this someday?”

Furthermore, here’s a bit from a 2016 deposition in which Mesar’s lawyers questioned Suk:

Q. You did signal for him to slide to third base, correct?
A. Correct.
Q. OK. What was the reason for that?
A. The proximity of the ball to the runner approaching third base.
Q. OK. Based upon your telling us that there was a play at third base.
A. Correct.
Q. OK. How close was he to third base when you signaled for him to slide?
A. Approximately six feet.
Q. He was running at full speed, correct?
A. Correct.
Q. Giving no indication that he was going to slide, correct?
A. He was running full speed around the bases. He — his eyes were not affixed on the ball. He did not see the ball coming. I did. Therefore, he was running full speed, but upon my decision and telling him at a safe distance to slide, he was able to do so.

For those of you unfamiliar with baseball, the job of a third base coach is, in part, to tell the runner when to slide because the runner cannot see the ball. Mesar’s lawyers were either deeply uneducated about how the game of baseball works (a runner cannot usually give an indication he is going to slide) or were unscrupulous to an unusual degree. Their point was that Suk had never received baseball training and that there was no play at third, which meant a slide was unnecessary. None of this was relevant.

Jason Mesar’s father, Rob, also bears part of the blame. He said Suk was given the job even though the middle school teacher didn’t have the proper training. Yet even if that were true, why continue the lawsuit when it became clear that, since the insurance company was going to fight it, Suk would be brought into the lawsuit and have his reputation destroyed by lawyers? Furthermore, Rob Mesar was, after all, a scorekeeper on the team. If he thought the training was unsafe, he could have pulled his son from the team.

“You have people just taking the extra $8,000 who don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Rob Mesar told NJ.com. “Somebody’s got to be responsible. Nobody is!”

You’re his parent; you’re the one who’s responsible. What if this had been a Little League team where the coaches are parents who likely receive less training and have less knowledge of the game? Should we sue them, too — even though the parents are the ones who let their child play baseball?

Do you think this lawsuit had any merit?

Of course not. This was a frivolous lawsuit, even though Rob Mesar swore it wasn’t. (“He says he is a business owner who would never file a frivolous lawsuit. He believes his son was wronged, that too many of the facts of what happened on that ballfield didn’t come to light in the trial,” Politi wrote. Right.)

Suk, meanwhile, pondered the potential consequences of losing the case.

“It’s the end of high school sports,” he said. “The coaching profession would be under heavy scrutiny for everything that happens. Coaches are going to have to have insurance like doctors have for malpractice. School districts are not going to want to take the risk of having sports.”

And as for the effect on him?

“That game on April 4, 2012, was Suk’s first time coaching on the high school level. He was 23, still not a full year removed from [Fairleigh Dickinson University]-Madison, coaching at Bound Brook for just a few weeks after his predecessor abruptly resigned,” Politi wrote.

“He is 31 when he walks into Courtroom 301. Do the math: This incident has hovered over him in some form for nearly a quarter of his life, always there, always grinding along without resolution.”

“‘Was it hard to sleep some nights? Yeah,’ Suk tells me. ‘It was hard knowing that I had to explain myself, over and over and over again. It took the fun out of the job because I kept on thinking, “He could be the next kid who comes up with a lawsuit.” You know? The odds are slim but you don’t want to go through something like this again.'”

He might have lost a quarter of his life to this case.

He ended up winning it; the jury found in Suk’s favor.

I understand Rob Mesar’s son suffered a tragic injury. Rob Mesar is an adult who should have known the potential consequences of athletics. As the father of an athlete, he also knew the benefits of youth sports.

He knew what this lawsuit would have done.

I refuse to let him off the hook here. He was willing to run the risk of ruining youth sports for every other child and teenager across this country out of spite.

Beyond that, I’d say his ridiculous decision to pursue this in a court of law has arguably retraumatized his son by keeping this case in the public eye, arguably using his son to prove a point. To that extent, blaming John Suk for his son’s depression and anxiety is disingenuous in the extreme.

Common sense prevailed here, but not until so much collateral damage was inflicted, not until the future of youth sports was put in danger.

Everyone who played a role in this ought to feel deeply ashamed.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Birthplace
Morristown, New Jersey
Education
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture




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