Leon casino, It was the ninth inning, there were two outs, and Houston wasn’t doing so great. Astros fan Kevin Crabtree was staring hard at the field at Minute Maid Park from his seat along the foul line, past first base. The situation didn’t look good for him, either.
The Mets were winning by two and if Houston’s Carlos Lee didn’t strike out in the next two minutes, Kevin might actually end up doing the thing that he really did not want to do. He might end up leaving his seat, hopping over the barrier, hauling ass through the middle of the game in front of thousands of people and trying to escape over the center field wall.
At least that was the route he’d described to everybody sitting near him. It had all seemed so easy a couple hours ago when it was just a joke between Kevin and his brother and his father-in-law. But somewhere along the line the situation had gotten more complicated. For one thing, now people were expecting him to actually do it. Also, someone had bet Kevin a large amount of money he wouldn’t.
The bachelorette party sitting one row back that had started chanting Kevin’s name over and over again wasn’t helping, either.
“It was an out of body experience,” Kevin told Free Press Houston on Friday. “It got to the point where pretty much the whole section was cheering me on. And I really thought that I was going to get out of it with the game almost done. I just thought I could go down there and act like I was going to do it, like a bluff, and then the Astros would lose and I wouldn’t have to.”
Kevin handed his wallet and phone to his brother and walked toward the barrier behind first base. His father-in-law looked away. The bachelorette party screamed with delight. Carlos Lee hit a foul ball, staying alive for another pitch.
Less than two minutes later, Kevin would be known as the only person to ever run through the middle of an Astros game and escape over the wall.
If you Google the words “Kevin Crabtree Astros,” the first result you’ll see is an article titled “Judge bars lucky Astros fan/trespasser from contact with ballpark.” The second result is a different article: “The Houston Astros Highlight of the Year.”
Then there are a dozen Youtube videos of Kevin running across the field, followed by analysis (“Astros Fan On-Field Escape: A Critical Appraisal”) and tributes to his heroic journey (“He is Legend: The Astros Fan Who Ran Onto The Field and Got Away”).
What you won’t see, however, is an interview or a quote from Kevin Crabtree. That’s because he’s never spoken publicly about the incident until now. After Kevin became a viral hero to the millions of people who watched the internet videos of him juking past a ballpark security guard and flinging himself over the wall, he said he went through one of the hardest times of his whole life.
“Lots of reporters tried to get me to do a story back then,” he said. “A few talk shows, a few radio stations. FOX 26 came to my house. But at the time I was concerned about my career and my family and what the criminal charges were going to be. I wanted to keep quiet. It was an extremely difficult time.”
As Kevin sprinted across Minute Maid Park, he was reminded of when he played baseball in college at Stephen F. Austin State University. He was visualizing his goal — get over the wall — and it was the only thing he saw. He was locked in.
“It’s like when you know you’re about to hit one out of the park,” he said. “Like Altuve the other night. It’s that kind of mentality — the ultimate confidence that you just know you’re going to do what you’re going to do.”
Like Jose Altuve in the World Series this week, thousands of fans screamed for Kevin as he took off across the field. The brilliant stadium lights illuminated his path. Professional athletes in uniforms stood less than 50 feet away.
Less like Altuve were the cargo shorts Kevin was wearing. The embarrassed family members. The security guards running to tackle him. As the videos of Kevin’s run show, the guards caught up with him at the now-leveled Tal’s Hill. Almost.
“The word ‘juke’ came up a lot later,” Kevin said, remembering how he sidestepped past the guard and kept on toward his goal. “I was just looking around, looking for the escape. I didn’t have time to really hear or think about anything.”
Fortunately, as a longtime Astros fan, Kevin didn’t need to think. He already knew the field well, and he’d spent the last hour discussing possible escape routes with his brother and father-in-law. This was the 66 seconds that Kevin Crabtree had been envisioning since he arrived at the game.
Still there were challenges.
“One thing I didn’t know how I was going to handle was climbing up onto the hitter’s eye,” Kevin said, referring to the grassy area located above the field, separated from the stadium seating by a 9-foot wall. The solid color of the area allows batters to see a ball moving at 96 mph without distraction, but for Kevin it created a problem.
“How was I going to pull myself up there? I didn’t know how I would do that when I was planning it out. But when I got there I just said ‘I think I can do this’ and so I did.”
The videos show Kevin doing exactly that: miraculously dragging himself up and over the wall just as a security guard runs up behind him. Afterward he said he jumped down the other side, a 15 foot drop, and then he vanishes into the history books: The only fan who ever got away.
“That was the best ever!” A drunk guy in one of the videos yells into the camera.
For the crowd at Minute Maid, The Great Fan Escape was over. But for Kevin, who still faced getting caught by stadium security, an arrest by Houston police, and a year of questions and consequences from his family, Harris County, and potential employers, the incident had barely begun.
After Kevin dropped out of the crowd’s view, he faced a final obstacle that he said he still thinks about years later: the stadium doors.
“The biggest thing was the doors,” he said. “It was the unexpected part. If I could’ve planned that out, I might have gotten away.”
The doors, in the area behind left center field, are entrance only and exit only. You can’t enter the stadium through the exit doors and you can’t leave through an entrance.
“I went to the entrance, and they were locked,” Kevin said. “If I had gone to the exit doors there would’ve been no one there. I think about that quite often. What would have happened, I mean. Would they have chased me down? Would I have kept running? I bet I would’ve put on the boosters and Batman’d into the night.”
Instead, as he was desperately pulling on the locked entrance doors, security guards grabbed him and brought him to the stadium’s jail cell to wait for police. It would make sense for the guards to be angry with him, but Kevin said it was the opposite.
“They were all like ‘That was freakin’ awesome!’” Kevin said. “They told me sorry that I had to be there in the cell, to wait for the police, you know, and I could hear them laughing about what happened. One of the guards that I juked was there and they were all laughing at him and making fun of him.”
It was a different story when HPD showed up. Kevin said the officer who brought him to the station told him that he was facing a felony that would impact him for the rest of his life.
Although Kevin would only end up being charged with two misdemeanors (he said he had to pay about $4,000 in fines and complete community service) and getting banned from Minute Maid Park for a year, the police officer was also right in a way. Kevin’s life did change. His family didn’t see him as the hero that other people did, and the bet he had made before he ran out on the field turned out to be, in Kevin’s words, “a misunderstanding.”
“They were very taken aback by it, honestly,” Kevin said, talking about his family’s reaction. “It was an immature, bad decision in the moment, and it wasn’t the person who I am. I’m not a full out drunken idiot, and I made a split second decision.
My wife was pregnant with our first child at the time, and it made her pretty pissed off — rightfully so. My dad, he refused to watch the video, at least until I finally convinced him to. There was some tension with the bet, too. There was a misunderstanding between what the person who made the bet remembered and what I believed I remember. I don’t have any animosity any more, it’s over with, but a lot of hurtful things were said back then. It put me in a hard place.”
Kevin declined to go into specifics about what was said and he didn’t want to talk about the bet that didn’t end up paying off for him. But even without specifics, it’s clear that when the the videos that glorify him as a hero are over and the crowd’s cheering ends, a painful personal experience begins.
Despite the old wounds, Kevin said he doesn’t regret his decision to run. He said that he sees the 66 seconds or so that it took him to sprint across the field as a turning point in his life, and now he credits God for helping him turn the consequences into something positive.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I can’t keep thinking about what if it had happened another way because God has a plan for my life. I’m given choices and I made the choice and it is what it is. Now one of my passions is to inspire kids and teach them to make better choices and decisions than I did that day. I feel like God has given me a bit of a gift to inspire and motivate people, and I didn’t completely realize that until after I made that choice.”
Of course, becoming a viral hero to the sports world didn’t hurt too much, either.
“I can’t glorify it, but if I have to pick something that was my favorite part about the whole thing — being on ESPN’s top whatever they had going on at the time was nice,” Kevin said. “And Jim Rome had a little segment about it on his show, too. I think he called me a Harry Houdini-Batman hybrid. That was pretty cool.”