The score was 3-2 in favor of the Yankees. There were two on and two out for one of the most feared hitters in the game today, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers led the series two games to one, so this was a critical at-bat for the Yankees and their underachieving pitcher A.J. Burnett.

Hamilton hit a pop foul down the left field line—and then it happened.

As Yankee left fielder Brett Gardner closed on the ball, he was quickly running out of room. As he got to the wall and was reaching up to make the catch, a fan reached up to make the catch also and got his hands on the ball. A disgusted Gardner glared into the stands, and Hamilton was given a reprieve.

Sound familiar, Cubs fans?

This was Steve Bartman all over again. It was a similar play that kept an at-bat alive for the Florida Marlins in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. The Marlins then went on to score eight runs in the eighth inning and forced a Game 7. They eventually won the World Series and kept the Cubs’ title-less streak alive at 95 years and still counting.

Bartman was immediately declared Public Enemy No. 1 in Chicago. He was escorted from Wrigley Field before the game ended for his own safety. He was then forced to become a recluse. He still has not been heard from since. The man’s life was forever changed.

But here is the thing: It was not his fault. It never was. And now we have proof. Burnett, undaunted, got Hamilton out. The inning ended, and the Yankees then went on to lose the game anyway. The play had no effect on the game—and in reality, neither did Bartman’s. It was a foul ball in the stands, which every baseball player knows is not fan interference.

If there are any fans that should be postseason-savvy enough to know to let the player make a play in that situation, it would be Yankee fans. After all, no fans have had more practice at the postseason than they have. Yet here they were going after the ball. Why? Because instinct takes over.

Part of being a fan at a baseball game is trying to catch a foul ball. It’s what keeps fans attentive. Without being allowed to keep baseballs, fans might not keep their eyes on the ball at all times, and there would be more fan injuries as a result. We are trained to try to catch foul balls as a youngster. It’s why kids bring their gloves to the game with them.

When Bartman and that Yankee fan reached for the ball, they were doing what any fan would do. You see the ball coming at you, you catch it. No fan should be punished for that.

Early last season on TV I saw a fan at a Tampa Bay Rays game get in Evan Longoria’s way on a similar play. Longoria yelled at him and then glared at him. The poor fan was mortified. If there is any team that cannot afford to alienate fans, it’s the Rays. I hope they apologized to him.

The Cubs need to reach out to Steve Bartman too. He did nothing wrong and has had to pay a steep price. The Cubs owe him an apology. Cubs fans owe him an apology. Baseball owes him an apology.

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