Tropicana Field is a weird place. Outfielders are constantly losing balls in the roof, I’ve seen more than one long delay caused by umpires trying to sort out what is and is not a home run based on which one of those damn rings the ball hit, and now, because of the way it’s designed and because the place is so empty most of the time, you’ve got fans calling off outfielders and causing them to drop routine fly balls, or at least so say the Tigers.
“Unfortunately, the source of confusion was coming from the stands,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. “Someone in the stands was yelling, ‘I got it!’ That’s why Kinsler went out acting like he had it and then he heard someone say, ‘I got it!’ so he backed off.
“We had to change our signals. It was the Rays’ fans causing confusion.”
In an outdoor stadium, or one filled with fans, vocal interference from the stands isn’t a concern for outfielders.
Tropicana was largely empty on Wednesday (12,281 was the listed attendance), but the acoustics make it easy for strong-lunged fans to play havoc with outfielders.
The stadium is intimate for a dome, almost like an auditorium. When a ball bounces off the wall, it can be heard clearly on the other side of the park. The snap of the ball in a glove echoes crisply. Beer vendors in left field can be heard behind home plate.
Outfielders have authority to call off infielders, and that’s what Kinsler thought was happening when he pursued a ball into the shallow outfield.
If this really did happen (I have a feeling it more than likely did), it brings up a few questions. Mainly, why has no one thought about doing it before now? In the short-term at least, it’s genius. Eventually word will get around and teams will try to plan for it, but in the meantime you’re going to potentially be able to directly influence a few games, possibly in some key situations.
From a rules perspective though, could something like this be considered fan interference? Fans yelling and heckling and trying to throw players off their game is part of the sports experience, but when does it cross the line from sports fans behaving like sports fans into becoming an unfair advantage? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it called in the majors, but at some levels of baseball there are verbal interference rules that address this very thing. For now it’s probably not worth looking at, but if it does start becoming a thing, could we need a special acceptable Trop yelling rule?