The Alabama man accused of swiping a home run ball from a teenage boy at a recent Giants game says the chorus of boos that have rained down on him since the incident are misplaced.
Cletis B. Smith, a 51-year-old father and Army major from the South, told The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday that after he ended up with the baseball in question, people around him cheered his newfound glory. That's why he was dumbfounded, and angry, to learn that he was being accused of a crime — and of injuring the 16-year-old Canadian boy who told police he was the rightful owner of the ball.
Smith specifically referenced unsavory comments posted on news stories online.
"My sisters, my wife, my children, they were appalled at the things they were saying about me," Smith said about the commenters.
Before the home run, Smith said, he was gazing out over the Bay from the right-field promenade when he heard the crack of the bat and commotion in the crowd. He turned around to see a wall of people. After the ball landed, it bounced around the area where Smith stood, he said. At one point it even bounced off his shoulder and smacked a wall.
That's when a scramble for the ball occurred and it bounced around several people's hands, Smith said.
"It was a scrum. It went off my hand, went off someone else's hand and the guy with the baseball glove," he said, believing the gloved fan was the kid who Smith allegedly assaulted and robbed. "The kid jumped over my back to get the ball."
After Smith ended up with the ball, he said, people offered congratulations. That's why he was shocked to learn he had been accused of robbery, denying he ever twisted a kid's hand.
"I would never ever do something like that," Smith said. "I've never been in trouble with the law. I don't even drink. That's not me."
Smith said he heard that police were treating the case as a robbery when he received a call from his brother-in-law, who had seen the news articles. Smith said he was disgusted at the comments made on the blog Deadspin and other news websites.
"I'm not a thug; I'm not 'East Bay trash,'" he said. "I put my life on the line for almost 28 years defending this country and our Constitution."
The longtime baseball fan and father of three said he is an active member of the Army based in Alabama. Originally from New York City and a fan of the Mets, Smith said he's been going to baseball games since the 1970s. He said he was in San Francisco on business and attended the Giants game against the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 21 on a whim.
Police have said they are treating the incident as a crime, because under California law robbery is defined as the taking of something "by force or fear."
On Thursday, after being told that Smith believes he's innocent, Officer Tracy Turner said the Police Department would like him to get in touch and give a statement.