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November 28, 2014

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Ex-major leaguer Offerman missing amid attack suit

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Associated Press

In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, former baseball All-Star Jose Offerman leaves court in Bridgeport, Conn., where he pleaded not guilty to charges that he attacked a pitcher and catcher with his bat during a minor league game. Six years after the attack, a federal lawsuit heads to trial. But the defense attorney doesn’t know where Offerman is and doesn’t expect him to show up for court.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Six years after attacking two opposing players with a bat during a minor league baseball game in Connecticut, ex-major leaguer Jose Offerman is nowhere to be found.

As a federal lawsuit over the attack heads to trial, the attorney for the journeyman catcher whose career was ended with a swing of Offerman's bat doesn't know where the two-time All-Star is — and doesn't expect him to show up for court.

J. Craig Smith, the attorney for former Bridgeport Bluefins catcher John Nathans, tried to serve Offerman with discovery documents in recent months, with no success.

"It's been so difficult for me to track him down," Smith said. "I certainly don't expect Offerman to show up at court."

Offerman, 45, an All-Star infielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995 and the Boston Red Sox in 1999, was playing for the minor league Long Island Ducks in August 2007 in a major league comeback bid when he was hit by a pitch and charged the pitcher's mound during a game against the Bluefish in Bridgeport.

He hit two Bluefish players, Nathans and pitcher Matt Beech, with the bat. Nathans suffered a head injury that ended his career, and Beech broke the middle finger on his non-throwing hand.

Nathans filed a $4.8 million lawsuit in 2009 against Offerman and the Ducks, a case that remains pending in federal court in Bridgeport. Jury selection and the trial were supposed to begin next week, but a judge delayed them to January and ordered the parties to attend a settlement conference on Dec. 5.

Lawyers in the case said they do not expect to reach a settlement before jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 7.

Smith said Offerman hasn't appeared at any of the court proceedings. Offerman is a citizen of the Dominican Republic who has lived in the New York City area, including Queens.

A phone listing for Offerman could not be found. His lawyer in the lawsuit, Frank Riccio, who died in March, withdrew from the case in 2010, saying in a court document that Offerman refused to discuss the case with him and hadn't paid him.

Riccio's son, Bridgeport attorney Frank Riccio II, said Offerman apparently has been out of the country for some time, and he has not talked with him recently. Riccio said if Offerman ever returns, he'd likely represent him.

Even if Offerman doesn't show up to defend himself, a trial will be held and he could be found liable for Nathans' injuries, Smith said.

Offerman was charged with felony assault after the attack, but was granted a probation program that resulted in the charges being dismissed. He was also ordered to get anger management treatment.

In 2010, Offerman was banned for life by the Dominican winter league for throwing a punch at an umpire during an argument while he was manager of the Licey Tigers. The suspension was revoked last year and Offerman is again part of the Licey coaching staff.

The Long Island Ducks deny any responsibility for Offerman's attack on Nathans and Beech. Their lawyer, Eileen Becker, declined to comment.

Nathans also declined to discuss the case. But Smith said he continues to cope with inner ear problems caused by the bat blow to his head, including nausea and dizziness. Despite those problems, Nathans was able to graduate from law school and is now an attorney in Portland, Maine.

"Some days are better than others, but it's not a problem that anyone else would want to have and it ended his baseball career," Smith said. "He's able to function, but that has a lot to do with his personal drive and ambition. He's not going to allow this to keep him from functioning on a high level in the real world."

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