CHANDLER, Ariz. — A harrowing incident at the Milwaukee Brewer training camp Thursday resulted in injuries to 10 people, but a quick response by Manager George Bamberger and General Manager Harry Dalton reduced the severity.
A gas explosion of uncertain origin sent a ball of fire whistling through a series of rooms in the club's new complex here, flooring one person after another and literally raising the roof.
"The beams were actually picked up and moved over," Dave Petrushka of the Chandler Fire Department said. "The roof actually moved."
Said Dalton: "As bad as it was, I think we have to consider ourselves fortunate that no one was killed."
Coach Tony Muser and Jeff Sutton, a 21-year-old Mesa plumber who was working on a gas heater in the coaches room when the blast occurred, were the most seriously burned. Both were taken to Maricopa County Hospital by helicopter.
Muser, 38, suffered second and third degree burns over 50% of his body and underwent what a club official called minor surgery to remove pressure in the burn areas. He was listed in serious but stable condition.
Sutton suffered second and third degree burns over 10% of his body and was also in serious but stable condition.
Pitching coach Herm Starette, 47, suffered first and second degree burns on his arms and body and was kept overnight in the intensive care unit of Chandler Community Hospital, primarily, a club spokesman said, as a precaution stemming from past heart problems.
Coach Larry Haney, 43, suffered first and second degree burns to his hands and arms and was expected to remain in the Chandler hospital until this morning for precautionary purposes.
Coach Andy Etchebarren, 42, pitcher Bill Wegman, 23, and catcher Bill Schroeder, 27, were treated at Chandler Community for less severe burns and released.
Bamberger, 60, and Dalton, 57, were released from the Chandler hospital after being treated for singes to their scalps and hair.
A 10th person, believed to be a worker around the camp, was treated for smoke inhalation.
Bamberger, sitting at his office desk, was in conference with a standing Dalton when the explosion occurred at about 9 a.m.
The first workout of the full Milwaukee squad is not scheduled until today, but many of the 34 players who were already in camp had begun to filter into the clubhouse for the required workout of pitchers and catchers.
Said Schroeder, who suffered first degree burns in the area of his abdomen:
"I was just coming out of the trainer's room when I heard this whoosh, this sound that resembled a very high wind. Then I felt the heat and was surrounded by a fireball. It happened before I knew it, but fortunately I was able to run out of the building.
"Did I stop to look back? You've got to be kidding."
"I've never seen anything like it, and hope I never do again. I thought I was being surrounded by fire, and the roof was coming down."
Bamberger said he was knocked at least 10 feet off his chair and that Haney, who was entering the manager's office from the adjacent coaches' room, flew at least 20 feet, from one end of the office to the other.
"The first thing I remember is people yelling for help," Bamberger said. "Then I looked over and thought I saw Larry's sweat shirt burning.
"It took a second for me to realize that it was his arms."
Depending on who's telling it, there is some confusion as to what happened next, but the consensus seems to be that Bamberger, who had a heart bypass operation in 1980 and spent almost two seasons recuperating, stripped the flames from Haney's arms, then joined Dalton, who had been knocked against a locker by the blast, in helping to smother Sutton's blazing shirt. The force of the blast had carried the plumber through the door of the coaches' room and into Bamberger's office.
Muser, trapped in the coaches' room, had the shirt burned off his back, Bamberger said.
Uniforms hanging in empty clubhouse lockers closest to the coaches room were burned beyond repair. A mirror exploded in the back of the trainer's room, but the flying shards missed a reeling group of players and therapists.
Bamberger and Dalton helped Sutton and Haney out of the building but downgraded their role.
"There wasn't time to think," Bamberger said. "It was only a matter of reacting."
"I'm more scared when my daughters still have the car out at 2 in the morning. I mean, there wasn't time to be scared. The first reaction is to see what happened and get out.
"Then I realized that people were hurt."
Chuck Crim, a nonroster pitcher who had been sitting at his locker, said the sound of the explosion and ensuing appearance of the fireball could only be described as horrible.
This spring, the Brewers left their longtime training facility in the retirement community of Sun City to move this spring to the $1.6 million Chandler complex.
"I'd go back in a minute," Crim said, referring to Sun City. "It's going to be very scary going back into the clubhouse here."