Jason Gabbert says he is just an enthusiastic fan trying to collect baseballs tossed into the stands by players and ball boys at Target Field.
The Twins disagree.
The team issued a trespass notice against Gabbert in August, banning him from the ballpark for a year, claiming he had violated the Twins’ code of conduct for guests by his overly aggressive behavior in chasing down the balls. The Twins allege incidents have included physical altercations and approaching families and asking to trade their game-used souvenir. Officials with the team call issuing the notice a drastic measure taken when a fan acts “in an extraordinarily unfavorable way.”
Gabbert has fought back in court, but so far has struck out in his attempt to get the trespass notice lifted.
Hennepin County District Judge Bruce A. Peterson last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by Gabbert, rejecting his claim that the Twins had no right to issue the trespass. Peterson ruled that the Twins, as a private entity leasing the ballpark, can issue trespass notices as they see fit.
Undeterred, Gabbert, 49, of Plymouth said Thursday in an interview that he had committed no crimes at Target Field and he plans to re-file the suit in federal court, alleging his civil rights were violated when Twins security asked for his ID and called police, who escorted him out of the ballpark.
He said he intends to attend games next year, even if he is barred.
“I don’t take the ban seriously because they can’t enforce it,” he said. “People don’t get banned from a ballpark for bumping into other people trying to get a baseball.”
Gabbert said that last year he collected some 50 baseballs, thrown by players to fans, often at the end of innings.
Twins spokesman Dustin Morse issued a brief statement Thursday applauding the court’s decision.
“After duly considering Mr. Gabbert’s claims against the Minnesota Twins, the Hennepin County District Court summarily dismissed the case with prejudice,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The Court’s decision is a matter of public record. The Minnesota Twins believe the Court’s decision was correct, and the team does not wish to provide further comment on the matter.”
The Twins allege in court documents that Gabbert was involved in four incidents at Target Field in 2018, culminating in the last one on Aug. 17 that led to the trespass — his second in consecutive years.
“At the conclusion of the top of the 7th inning, Mr. Gabbert attempted to retrieve a baseball that been thrown into the stands, and in so doing, had a physical altercation with at least two guests who were seated in Section 6,” according to an affidavit by Dave Horsman, senior director of ballpark operations for the Twins.
Twins lawyers cite an affidavit from Carol Stenback, a Twins fan who was sitting in the section near another fan, Bradley Haddy. Gabbert “shoved his way into our row and he went over Brad and me to try to grab the baseball,” she wrote. She said that Gabbert repeatedly said “that’s my ball” as he tried to grab it.
Haddy wrote that Gabbert made physical contact with him and Stenback and said something like “get your hands off me” or “don’t touch me,” which Haddy said was surprising because it was Gabbert who initiated the contact. He said he told Gabbert to go back to his own row.
“The seats we had for the game were the best seats we had ever had for a Twins game and the man’s actions ruined our experience,” Stenback wrote, adding that a Twins usher approached her after the incident to ask how she was doing. “I told her it was the worst thing that has happened to me at Target Field.”
In another instance during a game the previous month, security staff noted an incident in which a father caught a ball and gave it to his son. Gabbert allegedly approached them and asked for the ball.
When he was warned by security to not approach families and children to ask for their ball, he “immediately raised his voice and start[ed] arguing that he gave that family 2 balls and did not take anything and he can do whatever he wants,” according to an incident report.
In August the Twins banned Gabbert for a year.
“Because of his conduct at the August 17, 2018 game and at previous games and for the safety of Target Field guests and defendant’s employees, Mr. Horsman made the decision that Plaintiff would give the 2018 trespass notice,” Jason Asmus, a Twins attorney with Briggs and Morgan law firm, wrote in a memorandum on Oct. 4.
Gabbert insists he never touched the two people and never went into their row.
He said that a note on the trespass notice accused him of “tackling another patron at Target Field” which he said was untrue and has demanded to see a video that he says the Twins had of the incident.
He said it would prove his case.
The documents indicate that Twins security has become increasingly upset with Gabbert’s behavior at games.
Gabbert was issued a trespass notice banning him for a year in 2017. Gabbert said he settled it with the Twins, allowing him to return after several months in 2018.
The Twins say he was the only fan trespassed in the past two years and the small number of trespass notices in the past five years is proof that a fan only gets banned if he or she “distinguished himself or herself in an extraordinarily unfavorable way,” Horsman wrote in his affidavit.
“From the start of the 2014 baseball season through August 6, 2017, a total of 7,847,739 tickets have been sold to fans to attend Target Field,” Horsman wrote. “In that time frame, the Minnesota Twins have had the occasion to issue notices to depart using the City of Minneapolis ‘trespass notice form’ to just 54 individuals, which represents just .000688 percent of ticketed fans.”
Gabbert represented himself in court, but says he plans to get an attorney when he tries to overturn the trespass notice in federal court, although he has not secured one yet.
“I have committed no crime nor was I under suspicion of committing a crime,” Gabbert said.