Peter Gammons: Foul balls, extended netting, and the assurance of safety

Baseball’s ride to October has been a ride across the Kangamangus Highway on Columbus Day, from Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge to the remarkable rebirths of the Diamondbacks, Twins, Rockies and Brewers to Jose Altuve and Francisco Lindor and all that has somehow distracted us from the horrific tragedies of one hurricane after another to the cacophony of the divides in our country.

I think I rolled back Mookie Betts Sunday highlights from two outfield assists, to a game-tying double, to a Slaughteresque game-winning dash a half-dozen times Sunday, tempted to go back to John McPhee’s “A Sense of Where You Are.”

But the image of this final month that has remained with so many of my friends, some who understand exit velocity, some who just enjoy the game for its timeless stream of consciousness, came last Wednesday in Yankee Stadium. The scene followed Todd Frazier’s foul ball that struck a little girl: Frazier on a knee, Byron Buxton praying, Eduardo Escobar in tears…”Moving and heart-rendering and sincere,” my wife said.

It was a place in time where every owner of every major league team had to realize this is not 1955. Exit velocities are absurd. Pitches are thrown 8-10 MPH harder and come off the bats in a blur at any time shooting into crowds, some of whom may be scoring their MLB At-Bat App on their phones, some of whom may be sitting in rows of seats that have slowly been moved closer and closer to the field of play.

When the Red Sox had three such instances in the course of a year in 2014 and 2015, Rob Manfred got it. He understands the importance of all baseball security that MLB can try to control; it’s one thing to weave through the dangers of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the L.A. Freeway or Storrow Drive, it’s another in a ballpark. Manfred wanted teams to put up protective netting. Some clubs were hesitant.

In 2014 at Fenway Park, Stephanie Tallbin was upstairs in the EMC Club, and because some glass had not been replaced, a foul ball struck here in the head, caused serious injury and led to s lawsuit against owner John Henry. In 2015, Tonya Carpenter suffered serious injuries when hit by a fracture bat, and later that season, Stephanie Wapenski was hit between the eyes with a foul ball and had to be rushed to the hospital.

On Opening Day, 2016, netting extended in the seats in the bowl between first and third base. Some complained. Hey, I bought season tickets for more than 20 years behind home plate, often thanked the ground crew that there were no tears in that screen and missed fewer pitches than Joe West (just kidding, Joe).

By this season, ten teams had installed nettings. After Wednesday, Cincinnati, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle announced they will erect such screens.

This is not about legal actions, it is not about being denied sitelines or some 103d amendment right, it is about right period. Manfred understands that his job is to manage a billion dollar industry, but the people who pay to attend games are human elements to that game.

I have friends in front offices that strongly believe that these nettings should be expanded, especially in parks like Fenway where the stands seem to jut out right behind the third base coach. The best idea is to entend them, then put all the nettings on a roller like a theater curtain that is rolled up before games and between innings, to allow players to flip baseballs to kid or hand them to batboys to turn them over to children.

Baseball legislates beanballs and takeout slides. They try to properly line outfield walls for players’ safety.

However, it’s the fans’ game, and on the back of every ticket should read a promise from each team and from MLB that they will do everything reasonable within their power to insure the safety of every paying customer.

When every stadium is netted next Opening Day, there should be a small image of Todd Frazier and Byron Buxton and Eduardo Escobar with the message, We Care.

Comments

  1. Age old problem, still going to go into last week, no resolution – players want it, should have been done years ago

  2. Stephanie Wapenski says:

    Thank you, Mr. Gammons. I feel like the most recent incident should really open some eyes (glad to hear that Cincinnati, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle are taking action). How close to tragedy do we have to come? For me, a helpless 2-year-old being struck in the face is the breaking point. Who knows what kind of lasting effects she might (or might not) have her entire life? The grief of the players and the fans in that area that witnessed it could be avoided. I was very very fortunate to walk away with a concussion and barely-noticeable scar. (Not to mention Red Sox tickets and a discounted wedding at Fenway Park!) But others have had their lives upended, and if we can reduce the risk of more fans getting hurt, we need to do so immediately.

  3. Dr. Peter Nanos says:

    Old New England proverb: Just praise is a debt that must be paid.

    Well said, both of you. Thank you.

  4. I once saw someone get hit squarely in the side of the head by a foul ball. This was near the right field corner in Tiger Stadium. This extension of nets is a good thing, based on what happened to this little girl, but I’ve got a feeling fans will still get hit by foul balls and netting will keep getting extended until they reach the foul poles.

  5. It’s great that we are finally thinking of the fans. Some of these seats are indeed like sitting in a pinball machine. But what about the other elephant in the room- the players? I have to point out that the perimeter of ballparks is needlessly hazardous and rarely discussed. I know we are probably stuck with Wrigley and other chain-link fences, but the perimeter padding and shock absorption is wildly inconsistent and haphazardly implemented throughout ballparks. Padding ranges from 2-10 inches, mounted on surface that give or don’t give. Let alone all the wildly sharp structures right around the field of play. Football fields would never tolerate all of these hazards, yet we expect fielders to go all out at great risk to make the exciting plays that we enjoy. We need to remove the car crash factor and reduce the injuries which greatly affect teams and pennant races. An exciting catch is just as exciting without an injury. And this is not even discussing the ridiculous hard, slick rubber bases they use. Think of Harper’s and Taylor’s leg injuries, and of the numerous hand and finger injuries sliding into the rock hard base each year. A canvas base could easily replace those and be attached to the same moorings. It would be pretty cheap to review and implement minimum safety standards in one offseason. I, personally, would rather see more of my favorite players be able to play more often, and at the maximum of their abilities, without these needless downsides.

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