Baseball is a fun sport for the players and the fans. We cheer, we moan, we laugh, we boo, but suddenly the game pauses when someone gets hurt. Last week, Yankees third baseman pulled a foul ball over the third base dugout at Yankees Stadium and the ball struck a little girl in the face. In the video below you can see Frazier immediately enter a stunned state and the other players on the field expressed their concern as well. Nobody wants to see someone get hurt, especially a fragile little kid.
Child gets hit by a foul ball at Yankees game. The players' reactions say it all. pic.twitter.com/YIyaBJq7tT— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) September 20, 2017
Objects leaving the field of play and entering the stands to injurious result is nothing new to baseball. Before every game, the PA system in every ballpark plays a warning advising fans to be alert at all times, but it’s too easy to let one’s guard down in a moment of distraction. Check out the image to the right. It’s a good thing that dad was paying attention, since it appears that his kid was too buried in a phone to realize that a two-pound bat was hurtling directly at his head. In this modern age of smartphones and social media, it seems that more fans than ever are distracted from what’s happening on the field of play. While the liability to protect the fans is the responsibility of each individual fan, increasing organizations across the sport are taking action to protect their fans by installing protective netting not just behind the home plate area, but along the foul lines as well.
In the wake of the incident mentioned above at Yankee Stadium, the Padres have joined the Mariners and the Reds in announcing that they will extend the protective netting at Petco Park to the end of the dugouts. Prior to the 2016 season a movement swept the league to extend this netting, and the Padres increased their coverage at that time along with most teams across the league. The netting currently extends roughly to the start of the dugouts, which complied with the MLB Commissioner’s Office suggestion at the time, but still wasn’t enough to prevent this scary event from occurring earlier this season:
Scary moment at @Padres game. C Hector Sanchez loses bat and it hits fan in head. Fortunately, she was able to walk out of the stadium. pic.twitter.com/aNiEMo5o1F— Troy Hirsch (@troyhirschfox5) May 4, 2017
Thankfully the camera angle hides the woman who was struck, but you can see that the fans immediately adjacent to her were facing forward and only started to react at the last moment, which was unfortunately too late for her. Balls fly much faster than bats, and both can inflict great harm. With netting extending to the ends of the dugouts, events like this might just end up with some flinches and maybe even some chuckles rather than shock and triage.
Some old-school fans don’t like the netting as it creates a barrier between the fans and the players, and the interaction that often occurs can be an endearing factor of a fan’s experience, but safety must be taken seriously and this is the proper step for the league to take. In the far reaches of the park, there’s plenty of time for fans to react, but in a game with 100+mph projectiles, the areas around the infield require attentiveness and quick reactions that don’t always match the fans who occupy those seats. Protective netting won’t prevent every injury, but a net behind the dugout at Yankee Stadium would have saved that poor little girl from a traumatic event. Improvements in netting materials make it nearly transparent, minimizing the diminished view.
Of course people need to pay attention to the game and get their heads out of their phones. At the same time baseball needs to cater to a common denominator - not the guy with the scorebook and the glove on his knee, but the elderly folks who have been coming for decades and the kids who we’d like to see fall in love with this great game. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was at Petco Park yesterday, and he spoke to the media about this topic as well as others more relevant to our local market. The league is taking the right steps in increasing player safety while trying to maintain the fan’s ballpark experience. There’s no crying in baseball, and this is the correct step in keeping it that way.