Going to a major league ballpark is an amazing experience. Fans love the pop of the catcher’s mitt from the pitchers throwing a heater in the upper nineties. They love the thunderous crack of the bat as they watch the ball fly, hoping for a shot at catching a foul ball. That being said, fan safety may not be something anyone thinks about at the ballpark. Stay alert, because some of those balls aren’t easy to catch. They’ll come screaming in at fans.
It’s Happened Before
During a game at Wrigley Field on June 8th, Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber pulled a hard foul ball into the right field stands just past the protective netting. He immediately turned away before seeing who or what the ball would hit. Luckily, the ball smacked into an empty seat. Someone was able to find the ball and happily take it home.
The narrative would be vastly different had that ball not hit the seat. It becomes frightening for to hear the thunderous crack of the bat but never see ball coming their way. They didn’t catch the ball. The ball caught them.
It happened to Schwarber in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field in 2015. The woman was carried off in a stretcher. It is now obvious why Schwarber would duck in this scenario.
Another reason to duck would be that it happened during the fourth inning of a game between the Cubs and the Houston Astros on May 29th in Houston. Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. hit a screaming line drive down the third base line. It went foul into the stands and struck a four-year-old girl. The shock and emotion heavily weighed on the entire stadium, but nobody felt it more than Almora.
“As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her,” Almora said in a post-game interview. (CBS News)
After several minutes, the at-bat continued.
“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,” Almora said. (CBS News)
“The young fan that was struck by a foul ball during tonight’s game was taken to the hospital,” the Astros said in a statement. “We are not able to disclose any further details at the time. The Astros send out thoughts and prayers to the entire family.” (CBS Sports)
Major League Baseball announced that for all Major League ballparks, protective netting must reach at least the far end of each dugout. This is as far as the protective netting extends at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The league did just enough, or so they thought. The girl who was struck by the ball appeared to be sitting ten feet from the end of the extended netting.
Although the chances of this happening were slim to begin with, it shouldn’t be treated as a freak accident. This kind of thinking has injured fans in the past. Just ask Anthony Gose.
In 2015, Gose hit a fan sitting behind the Detroit Tiger’s dugout.
“The knot on that lady’s head was bigger than a baseball. If that hit her in the face she might have died. Pitchers can’t react fast enough on the mound. How’s a fan going to react? They can’t. They physically can’t.” (Chicago Tribune)
Fans should not be held to the same standard as players. They are never in a defensive ready position, ready to catch a hard liner coming at them. Even if they were, chances are they wouldn’t come close to catching the ball anyway. The only way to fix this is to have the protective netting extend beyond the dugouts of all major league fields.
The idea of having extended netting down the foul lines was introduced to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in 2017, but said that the league could not unilaterally implement changes due to design variances of 30 different ballparks (USA Today). Because of several fan injuries from foul balls and shards of broken bats that flew into the stands, the league finally felt enough pressure to do just enough to have people stop complaining.
“Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” Manfred said. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with ‘beyond the dugout,’ I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.” (AP)
He was also quoted saying a reason there can’t be in season changes is due to “structural issues” at each ball park.
Fan safety for all ages at all ballparks safe should be the focus of the league, and they should do what they can in the immediate future to make this a priority. MLB better be alert because if they aren’t, they won’t be the one catching that screaming foul ball. It’ll catch them.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images