Fans are the reason professional sports exist. They show up. They pay for tickets. They watch at home, they pay for cable, satellite service and TV packages.
They buy the team gear and root their team on. Sometimes, they even make mistakes.
On Sunday in Cincinnati, a fan got excited and did exactly that. Ramon Santiago hit a deep fly ball. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Logan Schafer glided into the vicinity. Schafer left his feet to make the catch against the wall and, suddenly, the ball wasn't where it was supposed to be. Instead, it was at his feet.
A fan had reached over the wall, trying to make the catch with his glove just like Schafer, and he missed. The ball then fell to the warning track and Ramon Santiago, who had hit the deep fly to right field, kept running.
Santiago was somewhat confused for a minute, then raced home and slid as the umpire gave a safe signal at the plate and Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo shook his head. Replays clearly showed the fans arm reaching into the field of play and hitting Schafer's arm, causing him to miss the catch. So, after thinking he had scored, Santiago was actually ruled out.
It's happened before, and in much bigger situations.
In 1996, in Game 1 of the ALCS, 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier reached out and grabbed a Derek Jeter fly ball, helping it bounce into the stands. In that case, before replay, it was ruled a home run and the Yankees won.
In 2003, Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball that Moises Alou was attempting to catch in the NLCS. In that case, it wasn't ruled an out since Alou was reaching into the stands. So the play wasn't ruled an out and the Marlins used that out to mount a rally, beat the Cubs, and eventually win the World Series.
The rule, cited by MLB.com, states "When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference
APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out."
This case clearly fit that. It appeared as though Schafer was going to make the catch. He was in position, he had time and the ball was in play. Then, the fan reaching over the fence clearly prevented Schafer from making that catch.
In a situation like that, it's hard for a fan to keep a clear head. Without replay, in fact, that fan could have helped Santiago and the Reds score a run they didn't deserve. So, it could be argued he was helping the team.
The reality is, however, that fans should enjoy the game and not have a direct impact on game play. That's why the rule exists, that's why there are signs at stadiums warning to not reach into the field of play and, that's why replay is around to help make the right call.
The right call was eventually made, but the fan clearly didn't make the right choice for himself. Hopefully he and others can learn from it.
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