Albert Almora foul ball hits young fan during Cubs-Astros game

Albert Almora foul ball hits young fan during Cubs-Astros game

During Albert Almora’s at-bat in the fourth inning of the Cubs-Astros game he hit a foul ball that hit a young girl in the stands.

Almora fouled a ball down the third base line and was immediately distraught, putting his arms on his helmet. Play was stopped for two minutes. Players from both teams were visibly upset.

After the game, the Astros released a statement about the situation.

An AP image from photographer David J. Phillip shows the child crying after being struck by the foul ball.

Almora's quick reaction was due to the fact that he saw where the ball was going right off his bat.

"That's probably what sucked the most," Almora said. "It's just the way life is. As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her."

Manager Joe Maddon and fellow outfielder Jason Heyward, the on-deck hitter, consoled Almora quickly after the play. Almora said Astros pitcher Wade Miley went up to him and tried to calm him down as well.

"It's an awful moment," Maddon said. "Albert is an emotional young man with children so that made it even more real to him. And I got it. I understood exactly what he was going through right there. I knew he needed somebody to walk up there."

After the stoppage, Almora returned to the plate and struck out on a pitch in the dirt on the next pitch. He finished the game. Maddon said he was prepared to take Almora out, but Almora gave him a thumbs up and said he wanted to play.

"The rest was kind of a blur, the rest of that at-bat," Almora said. "I kind of came to my senses the next half inning when I went over to the stands."

When Almora went to the stands he was seen breaking down in the arms of an on-field security guard.

"I just couldn't hold it anymore," he said. "I had to try to keep my composure during that at-bat, but when that half inning was over I just couldn't hold it anymore."

Despite being clearly rattled in the moment, Almora said it was better to stay in rather than sit out and have more time to think about what happened.

"I think it would have been worse for me mentally if I had gone out of the game," Almora said. "Unofficial reports of how she's doing kept me going."

Almora, a father of two boys, struggled to compose himself during the postgame interview.

Maddon said that he emphasized to Almora that what happened was not under his control.

"There's nothing that you could have done about that differently so please don't blame yourself," Maddon said. "Of course it's an awful moment, but this is a game and it's out of your control and you just have to understand that part of it. Listen, I have kids. I have grandkids. It's a real awful moment for a player to go through something like that.

"It's a human moment and I'm actually really proud of the way he reacted."

Almora said he hopes to have a relationship with the girl, but all he can offer for now is prayers.

"It puts life in perspective," Almora said. "We get upset when we don't hit, when we make errors. Like I was, I was upset I didn't make that play. Life just put things in perspective."

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs’ their best chance to have success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”


Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

The days of Cubs mental skills coach John Baker holding an armchair cushion between him and the catcher as he calls balls and strikes may be over.

Professional umpires will soon take over the responsibility of calling the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmages. Crew chief Tony Randazzo and his umpire crew will embed themselves at Cubs Summer Camp, manager David Ross announced Sunday.

“I think it’s going to affect the mental skills department too,” Ross said, laughing. “Yeah, I’m excited about getting real umpires up here. Bake’s been doing a good job for us, but every chance we get an opportunity to turn up the dial and make it as game-like as possible, the better.”

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

From his playing days as a catcher, Ross is familiar with Randazzo. Ross said he’s excited about using the umpires as a “sounding board" for questions. 

The introduction of MLB umpires, which is expected to be implemented across the league, is also set up to give umpires practice before the regular season.

The Cubs’ earliest scrimmages, as well as Sunday’s intrasquad game, featured catchers calling balls and strikes, which Ross called, “fun and unique.”

“Being in that situation in the past,” the former catcher said, laughing, “you’re not going to make anybody happy when you punch them out.”

In the middle of the week, Baker took over umpiring duties. Baker has Tier 1 clearance – the Cubs deemed his role a priority, especially in the midst of a pandemic – so he has on-field access.

“Well, after umpiring 5 ½ (innings) tonight,” Baker posted to Twitter on Thursday, “I can say that that job is much harder than it looks on TV. I’m exhausted.”