Here is a play that happens once in a while and sometimes causes a discussion among umpires – a batted ball contacts the batter who is not completely out of the batter’s box. Specifically: the batter bunts or swings at a pitch; the batted ball hits the dirt or plate; then the ball bounces up and contacts the batter before she leaves the batter’s box; AND the batted ball is in fair territory when it contacts the batter.
Note: for the situation whereby the batter is no longer considered the batter but is now the batter-runner, see the article in the Rules Corner/Runners/Batter-Runner section (hint: a Case Book ruling states that if the batter has both feet on the ground with one being in the batter’s box and the other foot being completely outside the batter’s box, the batter is considered out of the box).
Most of the time the ball is in foul territory at the time of this contact. However, because of the way that the foul lines are drawn, part of the batter’s box is in fair territory. So, it is possible that the ball could be in fair territory at the moment the batted ball hits the batter.
Since this is a fair ball and it contacts the batter before it passes an infielder, would this be interference? Some of the rules which may be cited for this play being called interference are: the Fair and Foul rules (in the Batting rule), and the BR interference rule in the Base Running rule (which does not state anything about the batter’s box).
However, if you look in the Batting rule in the NCAA Rule Book, you will find a rule devoted solely to this situation; it even includes a table which gives the details for all the possibilities for this play – batter in/out of box, ball fair/foul – and what the Effect is. This is the rule which must be used for the situation above. It is important to look for any and all rules which might be called into account when ruling on a specific play like the one above. The correct ruling on this play is “foul ball.”
The Effect after this rule for the batted ball off a batter confirms this ruling, as it state in the second paragraph: If the batter is out of the batter’s box and the ball is considered fair, the batter is declared out. So, you can call her out for interference only if she is out of the box. For what constitutes “out of the box” see Case Book A.R 11-20. It is not exactly the same play as this one, but if does interpret what constitutes when a batter is out of the batter’s box – if either foot is on the ground outside the box.
You can also use Appendix A of the Rule Book (page 161), which clarifies the positions of a player’s feet with respect to the lines. The batter’s feet in the box at bat/ball contact must be within the lines. This means no part of either foot may be on the ground beyond the outermost edge of the line. For most slap hitters, and especially if the batted ball immediately comes up and contacts the batter, the forward foot is in the air as the BR starts running, and the other foot is on the ground completely within the lines. It does not matter if the ball is over fair or foul territory – the rule states this is a foul ball.
There is one situation which is not directly addressed in this rule – if the batter intentionally contacts the batted ball. The overlying general rule for this is: any time any offensive player intentionally contacts a fielder or batted ball, it is a dead ball and that violator is declared out.
This play is similar to the batter hitting a batted ball a second time. You will find the rule for this in the Batting rule as well. It also has a table with details and supports the consistency of these two rules – whether the batted ball is fair or foul when this contact occurs, it should be ruled a foul ball.
When this play happens to you as a plate umpire, hesitate and review what you saw before making a call – did the batted ball contact the batter? Was one foot on the ground completely out of the box? Give the benefit of the doubt to the batter – call her out only if you are 100% sure that one of her feet was completely out of the box and on the ground.
There is a video on this Locker Room which will help you visualize this situation.