As we enter the second week of the MLB postseason, broadcasters and commentators have given ample airtime to issues such as pace of play, the designated hitter, and the proper place for unwritten rules. They have not, however, given sufficient discussion to the most important issue in baseball: fan safety.
On Sept. 20, a young girl was hit in the face by a 105 mph line drive off the bat of New York Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier. Play stopped for about four minutes as players and fans took a knee to pray for the toddler whose face was soaked in blood. Frazier crouched near the ondeck circle, distraught.
Brian Dozier, second baseman for the Minnesota Twins, spoke to reporters about the incident after the game.
“I still have a knot in my stomach,” he said. “I never look. For some reason I did. Right in the face. Little kid.”
Tom Barton, A fan sitting a few rows behind the girl, spoke to the New York Times after the game.
“That was a screaming line drive,” he told the Times. “I just wanted to cry for this little kid. There was so much blood.”
The young girl is doing “much better,” according to the family, but she has a long recovery in front of her. While the situation is awful, we should be thankful. This young girl is lucky to have escaped with her life; a true tragedy was narrowly avoided.
Baseball has a history of waiting for tragedy to strike before taking comprehensive action. Notably, as USA Today writer Bob Nightengale pointed out, MLB didn’t force base coaches to wear helmets until a foul ball killed Colorado Rockies minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh on July 22, 2007. MLB owes it to its fans and its players to require all 30 teams to extend safety netting past the dugouts, before a full-blown tragedy strikes.
After the incident, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred encouraged teams to extend their safety nets, and some teams obliged, announcing that the change will take effect for the 2018 season. Several, however, haven’t, often citing fan experience and opinion as reasons for allowing 30-40 100 MPH projectiles to be launched into crowds every game.
These concerns are insufficient and unfounded.
Watching a game through the type of netting that teams would place in front of dugouts doesn’t take away from the fan experience. In fact, the fans who buy the most expensive seats often choose to sit directly behind home plate, watching the game through protective nets.
This summer, a colleague of mine attended a minor-league game, where he sat a few rows behind a dugout with a protective screen above it. He said he barely noticed the netting.. I’m sure if a 116 MPH foul ball — such as the one off of the bat of Yankee outfield Aaron Judge last week — had come screaming for him, however, he would have noticed the net, and would have been thankful for its placement.
Even if netting did disrupt the fan experience, that would not justify avoiding its extension.
We must drop the macho idea that we can look out for ourselves at baseball games. There is simply too much at stake to trust a parent with a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other to protect kids from lethal projectiles. Attending baseball games should be pleasurable and settling in the behind the safety net allows it to be just that.
Even at our own Simpson Field the Hillsdale College baseball team installed further netting, a step head coach Eric Theisen said was imperative to safety of our hometown fans.
“I’m in the third base coach’s box and I’m worried about people dying during our game, when I should be worried about our game,” he said. “…When I go to a major league game, and sit in those seats behind the dugout, I’m on constant alert. And there is no way you will ever see me try to catch a foul ball.”
After the incident on Sept. 20, Frazier choked his way through a locker-room interview.
“At third base, I watch every foul ball that’s hit very hard,” he said. “Some of them don’t hit anybody. It’s just really unlucky. It’s tough. I thought of my kids. I have two kids under three years old. I just hope she’s alright.”
As fans, we have a duty in this regard. Contact your favorite team and the office of the commissioner. Write a letter or make a call — the vessel for the message is unimportant. Let the owners and the commissioner know that you’re in favor of extended safety netting.
There is no reason to wait until a family has to deal with the tragic loss of a loved one and some poor player is forced to live with the reality that the death blow came from his bat.
Stevan Bennett Jr. is a senior studying economics.