MLB should extend netting to protect fans

Major League Baseball can't wait for tragedy to strike before taking action.
A woman is helped out of her seat after she was struck by a foul ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Freddy Galvis in the second inning Thursday against the New York Mets in Philadelphia.
A woman is helped out of her seat after she was struck by a foul ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Freddy Galvis in the second inning Thursday against the New York Mets in Philadelphia.

Some questions should be easy to answer. Here’s one: Should you duck out of the way of a screaming foul ball targeting your head in the stands?

Then again, actually getting out of the way of a screaming foul ball, or a baseball bat helicoptering into the seats, isn’t always all that easy.

With a spate of serious fan injuries at baseball games in the news this season, now is the time for pro baseball to extend the netting at ballparks through all levels.

The players such as Justin Verlander want it. They don’t want someone’s severe injury or event accidental death on their conscience.

The fans, even the ones opposed, will get used to it. What are the prime seats at a baseball game? Behind home plate. And what do those fans sit behind? Netting. Really, do I have to bother to point this out?

This will happen. The only question is whether baseball will wait until there is a tragedy such as the one that befell hockey. In 2002, Brittanie Nichole Cecil, two days shy of her 14th birthday, died at a Columbus Blue Jackets game when she was hit in the temple by a puck deflected into the stands. By the next season netting was up behind goal lines in hockey rinks.

Do you notice the hockey netting now? Does it “detract from the experience”? Do you even remember what a hockey game looked like without it?

The counter-argument against extending baseball netting down the foul lines is it’s on fans to be vigilant, to pay attention, to get your nose out of your cellphone — and there is some merit to that. Some. There is an obligation for fans in certain high-risk seats to keep their eye on the game.

But there are seats where even a bare-handed Derek Jeter would be lucky to escape unscathed by a foul liner slapped the other way.

Ask yourself this: Athletes in dugouts are protected by fencing, but fans a few feet above them are expected to fend for themselves, with potential lethal consequences. This makes sense . . . how?

Fans have been hurt over the years at major league parks and Joe Bruno Stadium and everywhere in between by foul balls. For a modest investment, you can reduce — not eliminate — the risk of attending a baseball game. (As for fans falling from upper levels, such as the fatal tragedy seen in Atlanta Saturday, that is a separate issue for which I don’t have a ready solution.) Google an image from baseball played in Japan or South Korea, where netting extends down the foul lines. Perhaps the netting does not have to go that far, but beyond the far side of the dugouts is a minimum.

What would be lost? Some intimacy. Some (not all) interaction between players and fans. A few souvenirs, although pop ups will still be fair game.

You know what else would be lost? The fear that every pitch could be some fan’s last.

Speaking in Philadelphia last week, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said the issue is being examined.

“This is a topic that is of serious concern, not only to me but, more importantly, to all 30 owners,” he told reporters. “We discussed it in August. We have a process ongoing here examining all of the relevant information. Stadium designs. Where balls and bats go into the stands. . . . Fan input, in terms of what they’re looking to see. Material availability. You know, there’s netting and then there’s netting.”

Which is a good point. Given modern technology, certainly there must be a fabric that will not significantly obstruct the vision of fans.

Regardless, this sounds like it will happen.

“I think our goal is to put the commissioner’s office in a position where we can make a complete recommendation to ownership in November and give people an opportunity to get ready to make changes for next year, if in fact we decide changes are necessary,” Manfred said.

Later that very night, in the same Citizens Bank Park where Manfred spoke, another fan got injured by a smoked foul ball.

Since the All-Star Break, baseball has been on a roll. There are good pennant races, captivating story lines. (The Mets? The Astros? The Blue Jays? If the Royals and Pirates can be powers, why not?) But too many fans have been getting hurt, too. This is a continuing story, one that can only take a tragic turn.

With pitchers regularly throwing in the high 90s, the game is faster than ever. It’s asking too much for fans to be able to react with their safety — or kid’s safety — on the line.

It’s baseball that needs to react. And fast, too.


Ed Lewi was a congenial public relations icon on the local sports scene for decades. He managed media relations for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, and for decades handled media and marketing for the New York Racing Association at Saratoga Race Course, among many other duties. Between his work at the track and Saratoga Performing Arts Center, he helped mold what Saratoga Springs is today.

But to those who knew him, what we will remember most is a joyous, helpful man whose smile was ever-present. Lewi was not only very good at his job, but also perhaps the most well-liked person in Capital Region sports.

It’s bittersweet that Ed Lewi died on Travers Day at age 81. In some ways, though, it’s fitting. He’d want to go out with a party. He’d want people smiling.

Reach Executive Sports Editor Mark McGuire at 395-3105, [email protected] or @MJMcGuire on Twitter.

Categories: Sports

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