New York

Father of girl hit by ball recounts ordeal, and Yankees promise fixes

'We can’t ignore how fortunate we are that our little girl is home'
Fans behind home plate at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 16, 2009.
Fans behind home plate at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 16, 2009.

NEW YORK — The father of a young girl who was struck in the face by a line drive at Yankee Stadium last month spoke publicly for the first time this weekend about the episode, describing in chilling detail the girl’s injuries and urging the New York Yankees to take action to extend the protective netting in their ballpark.

He made his remarks in an interview with The New York Times, and in a written statement that he provided. And on Sunday afternoon, the Yankees did act. They issued a statement that said they would “significantly expand” the netting at both Yankee Stadium and the team’s spring training ballpark in Tampa, Florida, in time for the 2018 season.

COLUMN: No more talk: More netting now

The Yankees’ statement came shortly before the father’s interview with The Times was published. In his recollection of that episode, the father, Geoffrey Jacobson, described the horror of walking into a hospital room to find his daughter, who will turn 2 this week, connected to tubes and machines. Her eyes were swollen shut, she had multiple facial fractures — including those of her orbital bone and nose — and doctors were monitoring the bleeding on her brain, fearing that it might lead to seizures.

And on her forehead, he said, was an imprint left by the stitches of the baseball that hit her.

Jacobson, who did not want his daughter’s name to be made public, said she arrived home Sept. 25 from NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, five days after she was injured in an afternoon game while sitting behind the third-base dugout with Jacobson’s parents and her 4-year-old brother.

“While there are numerous medical follow-ups and some remaining medical questions to be answered, we can’t ignore how fortunate we are that our little girl is home,” Jacobson wrote in the account that accompanied the interview, calling her a fighter and praising doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and others who came to her aid.

Jacobson said doctors had not yet determined whether his daughter would require facial surgery or whether her vision would return to normal. Her nose has a bump on the side, but, Jacobson said, “to me, that’s a cosmetic thing; it’s not a worry to us because of how serious the other injuries are.”

Television footage of the episode — showing the girl being carried up the stairs in her grandfather’s arms while some players fought back tears on the field — spurred renewed calls for major league teams to better protect their fans.

Ten of the 30 major league teams currently have netting in their ballparks that extends at least to the far ends of both dugouts. In the rest of the ballparks, including Yankee Stadium, the netting reaches only the beginning of the dugouts, leaving significantly more seats exposed to foul balls and shattered bats.

In the wake of the episode involving Jacobson’s daughter, at least four teams had announced they would also extend their netting for next season — and the Yankees have now joined that group. Until their statement Sunday, they had repeatedly declined to comment about the netting issue since the girl’s injury.

The Yankees’ silence had been a factor in Jacobson’s agreeing to talk to The Times. “There is a safer way,” he wrote in his statement. “A way where a 2-year-old girl doesn’t end up in a hospital bed, a way that people don’t get hit with bats and balls, a way where people don’t leave a game on a stretcher.”

Asked Sunday for his reaction to the Yankees’ announcement about expanding the netting, Jacobson said: “It’s what they should have said from Day 1, but I’m happy to hear this. I hope the remaining teams follow suit, because it’s not just about the Yankees.”

The netting debate grew significantly louder in 2015, when Commissioner Rob Manfred, acting after a woman was seriously injured by a shattered bat at Fenway Park, urged every team to extend the traditional screens behind home plate so that they at least reached the near end of each dugout. Every team, including the Yankees, complied. Ten teams then took his recommendation further — including the New York Mets, who stretched their netting into the outfield.

Not long after the Mets acted in July, Lonn Trost, the Yankees’ chief operating officer and general counsel, indicated that the Yankees were exploring the idea of additional netting, too. But he also noted that they were getting complaints from fans who pay a substantial amount to sit in box seats and did not want additional netting that would affect their view of the playing field.

Trost was asked how many complaints the Yankees were getting.

“Enough that we’ve taken notice,” he said.

After that comment, a fan at Yankee Stadium was hit in the head by a foul ball off the bat of Aaron Judge. And coincidence or not, the Yankees then went a step further, posting a statement on their website in early August that said they were “seriously exploring” additional netting. Then came Sunday’s announcement.

Before the announcement, Jacobson said in his interview with The Times that it was “ridiculous” for the Yankees not to act.

“You just don’t want it to happen again,” he said. “No one should have to go through that. It’s a game. It’s like taking to your kids to the mall or the amusement park to the zoo — it’s an activity. It shouldn’t be a place where you could die, and it doesn’t have to be. I get the reasoning and the pressure, but it’s senseless.”

Jacobson, a real estate lawyer, acknowledged that it was natural for businesses to view the issue through a cost/risk prism, but he said such a view was shortsighted. He contended that while teams, including the Yankees, have added amenities like bars, restaurants, shops and social-gathering spots to their stadiums in the name of improving the fan experience, they needed to place greater value on safety.

“The problem is that the economics of safety ignore that it’s somebody’s daughter or son in a hospital or worse,” he wrote. “People have been turned into statistics and probabilities so that fans can have a better view or seats can be sold for a higher price, and everyone believes they are safe and nothing bad will happen until it does.”

Asked if he was considering legal action against the Yankees, Jacobson said: “At this time, I haven’t thought about it. As a lawyer, I know we have a statute of limitations. There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not on my radar.”

Before Sunday, the Yankees had issued only two brief statements in the aftermath of the episode, one noting what had occurred and another that said the team would remain in contact with the girl’s family and the hospital and “provide any and all assistance that may be necessary.”

Jacobson said this weekend that the only Yankees official who had contacted him was one from the team’s public relations office. He said the telephone call was brief and expressed support for his family. He said that he had not heard from the team’s principal owner, Hal Steinbrenner; the team’s president, Randy Levine; or Trost.

The Yankees were asked Sunday for their reaction to the father’s statements. “Throughout this incident,” the team said, “our priority has always been the health of this young girl and we are thrilled to hear she has returned home with her family.”

Jacobson has had several conversations with Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, who hit the line drive that struck his daughter. The ball’s speed was measured at 105 mph when it left his bat. Frazier, who has a son and a daughter who are close in age to Jacobson’s children, is one of at least five Yankees players who have called on the team to extend the netting.

“Not only is he a world-class athlete, but he is a better person and that is what really matters,” Jacobson wrote of Frazier. “We truly hope someday soon our children have an opportunity to meet.”

While Jacobson’s grandparents have come under criticism — including that from some players — for sitting so close to the field with a child so young, Jacobson maintained that they were not to blame. Jacobson said his daughter was sitting on his 66-year-old father’s lap when the ball came toward them. Her grandfather put his hand up to try to stop the ball, Jacobson said, but it grazed his hand and struck her.

“There is nothing they could have done in a split second with a ball traveling 105 mph,” Jacobson wrote. “It’s unfortunate some have targeted them, but we hope they do not carry that burden, because it is not theirs to bear.”

Jacobson also said his father told him that in the immediate aftermath of the episode, a woman sitting nearby had shielded his son’s eyes while his grandparents attended to his sister.

On Sunday, after the Yankees made their statement, Jacobson was asked how he felt about his daughter’s injury being the apparent catalyst that spurred the Yankees into action.

He said that no one wants an awful event to be the thing that spurs change, “but unfortunately in the world we live in, it often is.”

“It’s something that could have been addressed years ago,” he said.

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