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Little League coach Noe Ambriz was visibly scared Thursday as he sat in the witness stand in a St. Paul courtroom, fewer than 20 feet from the man who he said threatened in June to shoot him "down like a dog" after a confrontation at a game two days earlier.
Ambriz's voice shook and his eyes stayed fixed on the prosecutor as he gave his version of what happened at the Parkway field on St. Paul's East Side on June 22 and over the next two days.
Wade Campbell, the man charged with making terroristic threats, began to cry when it came time to tell his side of the story. Campbell admitted being angry when he had said, "Send this guy back to Mexico," after he was kicked out of the dugout, and then muttered "Get a job," when Ambriz's relatives glared at him in the bleachers.
"I'm sorry I said that, I'm sorry," Campbell said as he struggled to compose himself.
But he emphatically denied saying anything about shooting anybody or anything. Campbell said he and his wife were frustrated that Ambriz hadn't been giving their son, Austin, enough playing time.
Ambriz, 31, and his wife, Yvonne, 30, whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico, moved their family to the Twin Cities from their native Chicago eight years ago. Noe Ambriz said he has coached Little League for three years, the first two as an assistant coach in the Parkway League. Yvonne Ambriz is the team manager. Their sons played on the 2007 team with Austin.
"It's not the easiest job," Noe Ambriz said of his coaching. "It's fulfilling. They're kids. They're a handful."
With 12 children on the team and nine positions on the field, Ambriz said he rotates players in and out of the game. "I will definitely play each kid four innings [out of six]," he said in response to questions from the prosecutor.
On June 22, a Friday evening, Ambriz's team, the Royals, played the Cubs in the first playoff game of the season. Although it was against the parents' code of conduct, Campbell was in the dugout, having helped with drills before the game.
When Austin took a called strike on a 3-2 count and returned to the dugout, his father loudly and profanely berated him, according to testimony on Wednesday from Yvonne Ambriz.
Campbell testified to using a vulgar term when he told Austin, "You gotta swing at those."
Yvonne Ambriz said she told Campbell that he had to leave the dugout. "Halfway out of the dugout he turned and started screaming in my face," she said. Campbell, she added, made a derogatory comment about her son's weight when he said the boy couldn't "even reach down and get the ball! You need to take him back where he came from!"
Family members told her that the insults and racial comments continued as Campbell climbed into the bleachers, she said.
A couple of innings later, Campbell headed back to the dugout to retrieve his baseball glove that he'd forgotten earlier, he testified Thursday.
Noe Ambriz and the opposing coach, Jon Weber, saw him and headed over, too. Weber testified that he put his hand on Campbell's shoulder and tried to turn him around.
"He didn't really like that," Weber said. "He said don't touch him. If I did, he was gonna drop me."
The next day, the Ambrizes were setting up for a niece's 7th birthday party in their back yard when they saw Campbell sitting in the neighbor's back yard.
"I was scared," Noe Ambriz said. "I didn't know what to think. I don't know what he's trying to do."
Both Ambrizes testified that they'd never seen Campbell at that house before. Campbell testified that he'd been there many times and was there that day to talk to one of the residents about some stonework he needed done on his fireplace. Campbell and the Ambrizes never spoke, and he left after about an hour.
At one point during Noe Ambriz's testimony, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Mark Hammer asked both Ambriz and Campbell to stand. Ambriz is 5-feet-5 and 185 pounds; Campbell is 5-feet-10 and 275 pounds.
'It's him again'
That Sunday, Yvonne Ambriz said, she got two hang-up calls from Campbell's phone. Soon after, she saw him sitting in his pickup truck in the neighbor's back yard, and a full minute passed as they stared at each other.
About 20 minutes later, a third call was picked up by the answering machine. When the fourth call came, Yvonne Ambriz said, she handed the phone to her husband.
"It's him again, it's him again," Noe Ambriz said his wife told him. "I'm thinking, 'Who?' She said it's Wade. He's been calling and hanging up.
"I answered the phone [and heard]: 'I know where you live! I'm going to come and shoot you down like a dog.'"
Noe Ambriz testified that he had said nothing but "Hello." Campbell testified that Noe Ambriz had set him off by saying, "Your kid hurts the team."
Tears rolled down Campbell's cheeks as he testified, "Austin's a little slow. Just a little bit. I've worked with him on it.
"I told [Ambriz] his kid was a piece of shit, too, and I was going to come over and kick his ass," Campbell said. "He [Ambriz] was yelling about something or other. We were both yelling."
Yvonne Ambriz called 911. Campbell was arrested at his home later that afternoon.
The Ambrizes, worried for their safety, took their children to their grandparents' home in Chicago the next day and spent the next several nights in a hotel, Noe Ambriz said.
Jurors will hear closing arguments today and begin deliberations.
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551