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MLBPA to review safety protocols after incidents in Chicago, Denver

CHICAGO — A shooting that likely happened inside of Guaranteed Rate Field, followed by a scary moment for Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. in Colorado. Both in a span of four days.

While Major League Baseball is on track for a marked increase in attendance this year, the two high-profile incidents raised questions about the safety of players and fans inside and outside of big league ballparks.

A spokesperson for the Major League Baseball Players Association said Tuesday that the union takes player safety “very seriously” and that it will review the safety and security protocols of all teams and stadiums in light of these events.

“Following security incidents, including those on field, our director of security is in immediate contact with MLB security and local authorities where appropriate,” the MLBPA said in its statement. “In addition to our security experts, our PA player services staff is in daily contact with players — providing updates and any relevant information.

“While the details of the recent incidents in Chicago and Denver are still under investigation, we will be reviewing the club and stadium protocols currently in place, as we do 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.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker added, “You don’t want to see that happen, I know that. You don’t know what they will do when they get out there. It’s a scary situation.”

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,” Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin 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,” Oakland’s Tony Kemp said. “So, yeah, definitely a little bit of a scary week.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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