The Yankees’ series sweeping win over the Twins Wednesday was overshadowed by a terrible incident when a young fan, a two-year old girl, was struck in the head by a line drive foul ball off the bat of former White Sox Todd Frazier. Play was halted while the girl was attended to, and eventually rushed to the hospital. Players on both teams were visibly shaken, some even moved to tears.
The knee-jerk response to the incident has been incredibly predictable. Suddenly outraged people everywhere are calling for the MLB to extend protective netting all the way down the foul line. Something that sounds nice in theory, but gets more complicated when you add real world factors.
First of all, it is 100% awful and incredibly sad that this little girl got hurt the way she did while simply attending a baseball game. Praise God that she survived, and will hopefully have a full recovery. It isn’t her fault.
With that being said, the issue of extending the netting is not as cut and dried as many are making it seem. While it would be nice for there to be an easy solution that we can all get behind, the reality is that safety is a moving target, and never guaranteed.
When you attend a baseball game, or any sporting event, there is assumed personal responsibility depending on where you are seated. There are signs everywhere warning of the risks of errant balls and broken bats, reminding you to pay attention. It shouldn’t be some grand secret that when you sit in vulnerable seats you are in fact… vulnerable.
While placing blame directly on them would be somewhat distasteful, the adults who were at this game with the little girl should have protected her better. Whether that would have been stopping/deflecting the ball before it hit her, or sitting in a safer area of the ballpark.
If you’re going to sit that close, especially with a small child, you better be damn sure that you’re watching the game like a hawk, and also have the ability to react quickly if something goes wrong. If you cannot guarantee that, then you have to make the responsible adult decision to sit somewhere safer.
A main issue with extending the netting starts with the fans’ view of play. Let’s at least be honest here, the view from those seats would absolutely be impeded by a net. People chiming in on social media claiming that the “view would be the same” are just flat out wrong. Ask anyone who has sat behind the netting at a hockey game. It’s a different experience.
It also affects how fans get to interact with the players. How are players supposed to sign autographs? Toss balls into the stands? Toss souvenirs out of the dugout? Those are key experiences that baseball fans have loved and held dear for decades.
Another issue arises in the form of modern technology. When you go to a game nowadays it seems like everyone is staring at a damn cell phone in their hand, even during live play! It’s not just crazy to me, it’s unsafe, especially if you’re sitting in a vulnerable area. You need to be locked into the action 100% of the time, and casual fans don’t want, or know, to do that. Why are we punishing the fans who paid good money to sit there and pay attention to the game? When you choose to sit that close you have a responsibility to be aware of what’s going on. Especially when you bring a young child who doesn’t know any better.
Baseball is also a business, and if the league were to mandate netting all the way to the foul poles, teams would have to drastically reduce ticket prices for those prime seats behind the dugout and down the line. You cannot impede the view from those seats and then keep those ticket prices just as high as they were before.
In turn, teams won’t be thrilled about reducing prices for those highly sought after seats, making an effort for change that much more challenging. It’s a money issue, and a risk assessment, as much as it is a safety issue for teams.
This summer I went to a White Sox game in Denver against the Rockies. We sat low on the third base side, in between left field and third. I made sure my dad, who had vision issues at the time, sat to my left so that if a ball came into our direction I could react quickly and at least make some move. We were in a high vulnerability area, and made damn sure that we were locked into the game during live play. That’s part of the responsibility of going to a baseball game.
People have died at baseball games from falling over balconies and off the bleachers. Are we suddenly going to start putting up nets over every balcony and gap in fencing? No, because that would be reactionary and ridiculous.
But I’ll extend an olive branch for the pro-netting crowd. If baseball decided to just extend the netting to the end of the dugouts I could get on board with that. That would prevent foul line drives from coming at fans in the most vulnerable areas, as we saw on Wednesday. We can meet in the middle on that. But putting up netting all the way to the foul poles is complete overkill, in my opinion.
Either way, Major League Baseball has an important decision on its hands. It’s no question which side of this debate is louder. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily correct.
There are risks and responsibilities that are assumed when you attend a baseball game, especially when you bring young kids, and even more so when you sit close to the action.
Putting up netting could prevent someone from getting hurt, but does it actually fix a widespread problem? I don’t think so.