Naimoli gets into dispute with fan

Rays boss Vince Naimoli says he has "never been disrespectful to a fan."

Published April 11, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The Mets scout who used the restroom in Vince Naimoli's private suite Saturday apparently was not the only person at whom the Devil Rays managing general partner was peeved.

Tom Chuparkoff, a self-described die-hard Rays fan, said Naimoli screamed and cursed at him during a heated confrontation outside Tropicana Field after Saturday's game. Naimoli, however, said he was calm and polite during the exchange and has "never been disrespectful to a fan."

Chuparkoff, 28, e-mailed the Times on Sunday to say he and 25 or so other fans were waiting outside the fenced player/employee parking lot when he saw Naimoli about 30 yards away and shouted, "Hey, Mr. Naimoli, spend some money. See what happens when we spend money? We win, 11-2. Great victory."

Naimoli, according to Chuparkoff, then walked briskly to the fence and began yelling at him. Chuparkoff, wearing a Rays jersey and hat at the time, said he told Naimoli he was "just busting your chops" but Naimoli continued his outburst, calling him a "sarcastic smart--- kid" and, despite the presence of several children, used more profanity.

"He absolutely lost it," Chuparkoff said in a telephone interview. "He just blew up. I was shocked. ... It was absolutely uncalled for. ... It was amazing."

Steven Williamson, a Clearwater lawyer who was with Chuparkoff, said he couldn't believe how irate Naimoli was: "It was a jaw-dropping moment for all of us."

Naimoli, though, has a different version.

Actually, two.

When first asked about the incident Sunday, he said through spokesman Rick Vaughn: "I don't know anything about that."

A few hours later he called a Times reporter and said he never lost his temper and merely approached Chuparkoff in a calm tone and pleasant manner and said, "Please tell me who you would like me to spend more money on."

Naimoli said he had "witnesses to my version" but did not want to identify them.

Meanwhile, Mets general manager Omar Minaya said he was still gathering information to determine whether the Mets would file a complaint with Major League Baseball. Scout Howie Freiling was kicked out of the stadium after using the restroom in Naimoli's private suite that is adjacent to the press box.

"I have a pretty good idea what happened from what our scout told our people, but I'm still waiting for (Rays general manager Chuck LaMar) to give me all the details," Minaya said.

Naimoli insisted his actions were justified.

"He was in a restricted area without a credential," Naimoli said. "I had no idea he was a scout. I had no idea what he was doing. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt; he may have been looking for the bathroom. ... (MLB security chief) Kevin Hallinan told us to tighten our security. I did what anyone else would do in that situation; I asked that the person be removed from the building."

While Freiling supposedly was told he was banned permanently from the Trop, Naimoli said Sunday that was not the case: "He can come back any time he wants to, but he should be wearing credentials."

MLB spokesman Rich Levin said MLB officials might also investigate the incident. "We'll have to look into it," he said.

Freiling said he just wants to put the incident behind him.

"To be honest, I'd rather not comment and get in the middle of this," Freiling said.

"I just want to go on to my next scouting assignment."