There has been an epidemic at AT&T Park, and we’re talking about something worse than garlic breath. Fans have been reaching into the field of play to grab balls that are still fair, balls that would continue to bounce and roll — balls that should be picked up and thrown by a player, not grabbed or deflected by someone in the front row. It’s always been a bit of a problem in San Francisco since 2000, but this year it seems to happen once every home series.
Generally these plays occur down the line, and occasionally someone will reach over the padded wall in left field at AT&T Park and alter the course of a ball that wouldn’t fly or bounce into the stands on its own. Yesterday brought the kind of fan interference we may never see again, as Gregor Blanco’s long fly ball bounced up and high off the bricks in right-center, and a fan grabbed it from about 20 feet off the ground. Barry Zito was galloping around the bases, Mike Stanton was confused, and in the end the umpires’ ruling went in favor of the home club as Zito put a run on the board even though he started at first base.
Nobody was happy afterward, as the Marlins argued to no avail and Bruce Bochy said after the game that, if the ball was left alone, Blanco would have had a chance at an inside-the-park home run. Everyone loses when fans interfere — even the fans who decide to make their presence felt, as they get ejected.
I asked Bochy about this all-too-common occurrence before Sunday’s game in his office, and here’s how it went:
Do you remember a season with so many fan interference plays?
“No, I can’t say I have. But I was going through some games yesterday, the Yankees had a very similar play. (Vernon) Wells hit a ball to center, bases loaded. It hit the wall and a fan grabbed it. They made the same call that they did with us, they put him on second base and had all the runners scoring.
“Part of it is what we have here. It’s special. We’re sold out, we have all those seats taken up. They cover every hole out there. I don’t know if we’ll see that again, what happened yesterday. If I’m a fan, my first reaction is to go after that ball. I want it, too.”
Hopefully fans won’t read those comments and think Bochy WANTS them to interfere with a ball that’s in play. I have to admit, I put Bochy in a tough spot with that question. He can’t be seen as someone who isn’t 100% appreciative of the 41,000+ fans who fill AT&T Park every night, and I didn’t expect him to rip the people who spend a considerable amount of money to sit in the seats that are so close to the field.
It’s true, what makes watching baseball such a vibrant and intimate experience at AT&T Park is also what causes all these fan interference situations. If the crowd is sparse and the foul territory ample, it’s a non-issue. You’d also be in the Oakland Coliseum or Candlestick Park, back when that facility hosted MLB games.
The easy solution is for fans to stop leaning forward and stop going after these balls. If it’s meant to fly into the seats, it will. But short of punishing fans after the fact, what can the Giants (or the Yankees) do? Maybe they could run creative, attention-grabbing messages on the videoboard during the game telling fans to leave balls alone (as opposed to the easily-ignored message Renel reads over a half hour before first pitch that also contains rules on profanity and other “code of conduct” concerns). However, the Giants don’t want to play wet blanket. They want fans happy, because euphoria breeds loyalty and spending.
Quite simply, fan interference isn’t a big enough issue for the Giants to do anything extraordinary to stop it. Until a front row patron causes the Giants to lose an important game, fan interference gets filed away in the same category as bandwagon fans — an annoying byproduct of the Giants’ success and packed houses.
— Bochy also told me that Sergio Romo, who only threw 20 pitches yesterday in his 1.2 innings, will be available if needed. On the other hand, Sandy Rosario will probably get a day off. Rosario also threw 1.2 innings, but he threw 14 more pitches than Romo.
— It doesn’t sound like Chad Gaudin’s forearm bruise is healing quickly enough to allow him to start on Tuesday in Los Angeles. If he can’t go, Bochy made it sound like Mike Kickham would get his second big league start.
— Pablo Sandoval should be in the lineup tomorrow night against the Dodgers. Bochy was asked again today about the home run drought, and he didn’t sound too worried. “I think it’s part of who we are,” said Bochy, who added that he believes the Giants will hit their fair share of home runs this year and noted that they’ve faced some “pretty good pitching” lately.
— Bochy was asked about what he thinks Brian Sabean should target in a trade.
Do they need another hitter with some power?
“If you look at our lineup, we’re pretty set at most every position. If you go around the infield, these are our guys,” Bochy said.
“One place you can look at and say we might make a change would be the outfield, but Pence is going to be out there and you have to love the way Blanco’s been playing. Torres has got the experience and he was swinging the bat well before he hurt his knee, and Perez. We have the guys here to get it done. Pablo back will help. That’s a pretty big presence in the lineup that you miss.”
A starting pitcher, perhaps?
“I think Chad was throwing the ball well. He’s the question mark right now, but four spots are locked in,” said Bochy, who then mentioned an area where Sabean will almost certainly target between now and July 31.
“I think you look at the bullpen, that’s where you need some help,” Bochy said. He mentioned that Rosario has helped out, and Santiago Casilla’s rehab is progressing well (and it’s not for an arm issue, which is fortunate). But let’s face it: Jake Dunning is on the Major League roster. For a manager like Bochy who thrives on a deep and versatile bullpen, the lack of quality relievers on the roster makes his job that much more difficult.