Acuna's encounter, Guaranteed Rate Field shooting raise questions about safety of players, fans
CHICAGO (AP) — Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier has played through the scenario in his head. There is a big cheer from the crowd, and he sees a fan running toward him.
“Every time I hear the fans go crazy out of nowhere I always turn around,” Kiermaier said. “One of these days I feel like someone is just going to come running at me."
That's what happened to Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. on Monday night in Colorado, sending the outfielder to the grass in Colorado. And the episode with one of the favorites for NL MVP occurred just a few days after a shooting police said likely happened inside Guaranteed Rate Field.
While Major League Baseball is on track for a marked attendance increase this year, the pair of high-profile incidents raised questions about safety of players and fans inside and outside big league ballparks.
“It’s always kind of scary when you have situations like we had in Chicago, especially watching the video and I’m sitting there in left field playing a baseball game and all those activities are going on," Oakland's Tony Kemp said. “That’s a little bit scary. That bullet could’ve hit me, and you know, I have a family and I have people that care for me and I care for them.”
The Major League Baseball Players Association said the union takes player safety “very seriously" and that it reviews club and stadium protocols throughout every season "to mitigate the possibility of similar future incidents.”
Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, a member of the union's eight-player executive subcommittee, called the situation with Acuña “a scary moment.” But he cautioned against connecting what happened with Acuña to the shooting at the ballpark.
“I think they're very different,” he said. “I think each probably has to be evaluated on its own.”
Acuña was approached by two fans during the middle of the seventh inning in Atlanta's 14-4 win over Colorado.
One fan got his arms around Acuña in right field before security personnel quickly grabbed the man. A second fan then sprinted toward the group, knocking down Acuña, and that fan was tackled as a member of the security staff chased him down.
“I was a little scared at first,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “I think the fans were out there and asking for pictures. I really couldn’t say anything because at that point, security was already there and we were already kind of tangled up, but security was able to get there and everything’s OK."
The two fans are facing charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace, according to the Denver Police Department.
“Thankfully, they weren’t trying to hurt Acuña in that situation," Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said. "Then again, if this happens again, you can’t be certain that a person is going to have some ill will towards that guy. It’s definitely concerning and hopefully there are steps taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Fans running on the field is nothing new for baseball. Players are instructed during spring training to do whatever they can to get out of the way whenever it happens.
“They tell you there could be an urge to tackle them or something like that,” Phillies outfielder Jake Cave said. “They’re like please do not do that. You never know what somebody has on them. Something sharp. You could get hurt.”
Field intruders generally are turned over to police before being ejected from the ballpark. Clubs may separately penalize field intruders by banning them from their ballparks.
The commissioner’s office reviews all incidents and may impose further penalties, up to and including a lifetime ban from all MLB ballparks and facilities.
But it was unusual to see two fans make contact with a player, knocking him down.
“I’m glad everything was OK but that’s not OK,” Kiermaier said. "It seems like security always takes a little bit longer than what’s needed at most places, or security guards aren’t fit for chasing certain people. I’ve seen it plenty over the years.
“I’ve seen some senior citizens who are security and other people just don’t seem like they’re physically fit for that to happen.”
The incident with Acuña occurred on the same day that Chicago’s interim police superintendent said a shooting that wounded two women at Friday night’s Athletics-White Sox game most likely involved a gun that went off inside Guaranteed Rate Field.
Both wounded women, ages 42 and 26, were expected to recover from the shooting that occurred during the fourth inning. Police said the 42-year-old sustained a gunshot wound to the leg and the 26-year-old had a graze wound to her abdomen. The 26-year-old refused medical attention, according to a police statement.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said Tuesday that the investigation remains active.
If the gun went off inside the home of the White Sox, the focus turns to how it was brought into the facility. MLB has had mandatory metal detection screening in place since opening day in 2015.
“I think anytime you hear that it’s going to alarm not only you for your safety but your family as well,” Texas Rangers outfielder Travis Jankowski said. “We have loved ones in the seats almost every home game we play and a lot of road games, too. So it’s one of those things that you hope that MLB and trust that MLB security is taking care of it."
It also raises questions about the decision to continue playing the game. Fred Waller, interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said police initially requested that the game be halted after the shooting was discovered. The White Sox said Saturday that they were not aware at first that a woman injured during the game was shot, and that police would have stopped play if officers thought it was unsafe to continue.
“I mean, the baseball field should be an area of safety and we should feel the utmost security out there,” Kemp said. “So, yeah, definitely a little bit of a scary week.”
AP Baseball Writers Mike Fitzpatrick and Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston and AP freelance writers Cameron Van Til and Ian Harrison contributed to this report.
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