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We are in majors in at least 1 thing

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


This is the view from the wrong end of the telescope, wrong because the telescope is not focused on baseball, Vince Naimoli's future or the allegedly ironclad nature of the team's lease.

This is Linda Osmundson's view.

You will pardon her for having peculiar priorities, but she sees a part of the world most of us would prefer to ignore.

Linda sees the fallout of what we call, in one of those phrases that never captures the terror and the hurt, "domestic violence." She is the executive director of CASA, the network of shelter and support services for families in the southern half of Pinellas County.

The Times has taken up a lot of space talking about these perilous times for the Rays and St. Petersburg, so much that I began to wonder whether somebody like Osmundson would have preferred to see some other story told instead.

Quite naturally, she said yes. Quite naturally, she wanted us to talk about what happens when husbands and boyfriends smack around their wives and girlfriends.

For starters: The agency's hotline, 727-898-3671, gets about 10,000 calls a year. That works out to nearly 30 a day. Better than one an hour. In half of one county.

Then there's that little matter of crime statistics.

While we've ballyhooed the drop in the crime rate -- down over 4 percent statewide last year, and down 7.5 percent in Pinellas -- the statewide crime rate for domestic violence barely budged.

Odd, that.

On a $2.5-million budget -- a figure that could barely keep up a baseball star's fleet of imported cars -- CASA shelters 500 women and children at any one time. It offers legal counseling to up to 5,000 women a year when they are beat up, when their partners are arrested, or when they want injunctions to keep the abusers in their lives away. Another 3,000 women attend support groups.

This is not the crowd that goes to see the Devil Rays.

Typically, families who come to CASA make about $15,000 a year -- loose change to many professional athletes.

That doesn't mean that families with bigger budgets don't suffer violence. They do. But when they do, they go to their own doctor, their minister, their therapist. They just don't show up at CASA, a place of last resort.

CASA houses 14 families for up to two years in a small apartment complex to help them get a new start. Just 14. That's all the room CASA has. Lord knows how much more it needs.

It even runs a "peacemakers program" in preschools and middle schools to teach children how to get along without using their fists, even when they see disagreements settled that way at home.

Each one of these women and their families are a story about living in fear, and on the edge, where the phrase "losing streak" has a deep and emotional meaning. When you are in fear for your life, the idea that a major league ball team can improve your quality of life is about as real as the idea of life on Mars.

Don't get me wrong. The angst over the Rays has its place. It just shouldn't warp our sense of proportion.

Finally, a story:

Linda Osmundson remembers the lovely gesture the first year the Rays were in town. The players' wives made a quilt on CASA's behalf. It was raffled off at Tropicana Field. So many baseball fans bought raffle tickets that $10,000 was raised for the agency.

At year's end, CASA gave a party to thank everybody who'd supported CASA. Vince Naimoli was invited. Osmundson never got to thank him. He had somebody call her office and deliver an angry message that he wouldn't come because the party was being thrown at a sports bar, and not at a restaurant at Tropicana Field.

"I've been sour on him ever since," she said.

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