Foul Ball Injuries Take Center Stage: Lessons from Hockey

I’ve been asked this question a great deal of late: “Should MLB put up extra netting?”FoulBallSign

My answer is rather terse yet resounding: “No!” Emphasis generally included.

My reasoning is a great deal more sophisticated than that though.

Should MLB add netting to protect fans? No. I reiterate. Doing so would damage the very essence, the rare intimacy, of the game.

Let’s start with a few facts to help put my reasoning into some perspective:

Baseball is a fan-oriented sport. In no other American sport are fans allowed to keep memorabilia. In no other American sport do fans sit so close to the players that they sometimes get to touch them. In no other sport can you go in before the game and get the chance to get autographs, balls, or simply chat with players for a bit. In no other American sport can you do any of this.

The numbers some people are throwing around about numbers and injuries simply aren’t supported by any data. The fact is, MLB and MiLB teams don’t release the numbers on injuries, regardless of how sever they are. So what the people reporting are doing is drawing conclusions based on the most severe and publicized cases.

While I do agree with David Glovin’s piece for Bloomberg that estimates 1750 foul ball injuries each season. I doubt the statistics of one award-winning sports writer who claims that balls reach the stands in less than one second for line drives thereby giving the fan little to no adequate time to react.

Untrue. There is adequate time.

I understand they are professionals, there are is plethora of clips showing MLB players in the dugout or in the on-deck circle snagging foul balls. Twins OF Torii Hunter in June, 2015 snagged a screamer while in the dugout. Others while on-deck have had quick hands too.

It’s important to note that these players are 30%-50% closer to the ball than are fans, a ball which by the time it reaches them has reached maximum velocity. To translate this: It means these players have roughly half a second to respond. They also have fewer obstacles between them. Hunter had fencing to duck under. He chose not to duck.

To reiterate: We fans get about a full second to react to line drive foul balls. Players and coaches on the field have half a second on line drive fouls, those balls known to do the most damage—let that sink in some: HALF a second at HALF the distance.

Thus the facts, when actually observed, tell a very different story than what many believe and assume.

So when someone says it’s not enough time to react, it’s because, as I’ve mentioned in the Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe, they weren’t paying attention. It’s really that simple.

The fact is that we have plenty of time to react if we are paying attention.

Buy MLB Allstar game tickets Accidents happen. Absolutely. They cannot be avoided, but when we start carrying on about how horrible it is that these people are getting injured, we need to step back and see why they got hurt.

Let me address, as an example, the woman at the Pittsburgh Pirates game who was beaned in the back of the head by a foul ball that came straight toward the netting behind home plate. She decided to turn her back on the action. She decided to then proceed to her chair that was in either the first row or second row in the seating behind the plate. During play. During an active at-bat. In the middle of a pitch. She turned her back on the action.

Who ends up being responsible? As crass as this sounds: she is. If she is in those seats, she should know better than to turn her back on the action. Common sense would dictate that you wait for the pitch, then go.

After all, netting only does so much. It’s designed to give and absorb the kinetic energy of an object hitting it. It’s not a piece of glass or a brick wall. It doesn’t stop momentum; it slows it.

Netting isn’t the answer. Paying attention is.

But, from what I am seeing, based solely on forum and article comments after an injury, is that at least 50% of fans want netting (many of whom admit to never having been at a baseball game). So I’ll address their concerns a bit more with some specific ways fans can be protected without destroying the intimacy fans feel at games.

For those 50% or so who insist on netting (which includes Buster Olney of ESPN), if we are going to alter the parks in some way to improve fan safety for the fans most likely to be seriously injured, there’s one option that every single other person appears to be overlooking: Glass.

What many don’t seem to understand is that a good number of the balls that hit spectators are of the low line drive persuasion. These balls, travelling quickly (some estimates are as high as 100 MPH), have next to no arch in its trajectory. This means they are entering the lower seating rows of the lower sections (as evidenced by Gill Fried in “Don’t Sit There…or There…or There”).

These first few rows are generally where the most damage is being done to fans.

There’s a very simple, noninvasive option that nobody but me seems to see: Tempered glass. I’m talking about the same stuff surrounding hockey rinks. The same glass that holds up as guys slam their opponents’ faces into it. The same glass that routinely withstands 120 MPH deflected or wide slap shots.
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Simply put, the best option for those in the seats most likely to have a screaming line drive foul driven at them is to install tempered glass.

If each MLB and MiLB team invested in a two foot high section of that tempered glass and affixed it to the top of each dugout and from the netting to 1-2 sections beyond the dugouts (right about where the tarps are usually stored), we’d see that the intimacy is still there, and a simple, cost-effective way of protecting more fans is installed. Plus, it would minimize those folks diving over the tarp and onto the field trying to get a ball and interfering with the game. This inexpensive option one that MLB can easily agree to as well. It is a compromise between the League’s hemming and hawing and those like Olney calling for netting.

The additional benefit of this minimal alteration is that players would still have the ability to reach into the seats to snag a ball. Their range into the stands would be cut back a little but they could still reach, just not fall into the seats…as easily. Such an obstacle would still allow for players to reach up and into the seats for foul balls, it would still allow them to toss balls to kids, but it would take away the fouls that are potentially the most damaging. Thus the integrity of the game is maintained.

 

As they say in hockey: No blood. No foul.

 

Considering the directness of line drives, a two feet section of this glass affixed to the top of the railing along the baselines as well as added to the top of each dugout, would help shield fans from the most potentially fatal projectiles while still allowing for a clear view of the game still.