St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, by most accounts, had a solid opening series against the Cincinnati Reds. He produced with the bat, proved that a defensive shift will not always work against him and played adequate defense. Then he tried to catch a foul ball as it flew into the stands down the right field line.
That play seems to be all anyone can talk about now.
A harmless foul ball caught by a fan does not generally produce much ire. But as Adams gathered himself to return to his position, he made a mistake that has been made by countless other young athletes: he pushed the fan.
It is important to clarify that statement, with or without the video proof. Adams did not push the fan in a way that would injure him. He did not push the fan in a way that could be misconstrued as an intention to hit the fan. He put his glove on the fan's chest and pushed him. The fan responded by showing Adams that the ball was in his possession.
It turned out to be harmless. But harmless does not always mean that it should be forgiven. Regardless of the situation, the description remains the same. Adams, a professional athlete, put his hands on a fan. That should never happen.
Adams claimed he was simply trying to avoid falling into the stands, attempting to push himself back into a standing position to keep from toppling over. He shared those thoughts with Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
I was trying to stop, ... I hit the tarp and I tried from going into the stands. People came up to me and said I shoved him. I didn’t know I had.
I’m not that type of guy to go after anybody. I was just trying to keep from going into the stands.
A fine excuse that is refuted pretty easily when you watch the video. It was not innocent or accidental. Adams was frustrated with the fan for whatever reason and his recourse was to push him.
The question now turns to his taking responsibility for actions. The league office has likely reviewed the incident. Punishment is likely coming. The severity of the punishment could tell a lot about the situation and how serious the league takes it.
If Adams is suspended, it will be because the league wants to make the message clear to the players: No matter the situation, if you put your hands on a fan, the punishment will be severe. A fine will send a clear statement that the league is willing to take into consideration the severity of the moment. Adams' shove was minimal. It does not likely require a strong response from the league.
The league is not likely to ignore it, however. Adams made a mistake and will need to pay the price.