A while back I posted a blog about the size of foul ball territory in each MLB ballpark. This information prompted another question that was glossed over in that earlier piece: What does the smaller foul territory mean for fans?
The bottom line here is that MLB ballparks are becoming more intimate; the data bears that out. This means fans are significantly closer to the action. As a result, we will see more balls and bats going into the seats than in older parks.
Smaller territory not only means more foul balls travel into the stands also translates into the potential for more injuries…and more foul ball souvenirs for fans. This creates a sort of double-edged sword effect. While fans get more foul balls, they also risk injury from those same projectiles more often than in the past. More now than ever before, it is important for parents to watch the game instead of being buried in their phones (a major reason I took down the FoulBallz apps until I can figure out a way for it to not be a distraction; safety first.).
Add to this obvious increase in fouls going into the stands that we now have other distractions and fans are in trouble; it is, essentially, a perfect storm that’s brewing. Fans are in trouble, ironically, mostly by their own hand, though. As I mentioned, the main distraction is the smartphone. It is a major issue. If you’ve followed the FoulBallz.com blog or @FoulBallz, you can get an idea of how many people are on their phones during a game. Pictures are plenty on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Vine videos pop up on a regular basis as well. Just like in driving, the phone distracts a user from the dangers around them.
While it’s virtually impossible to come up with any accurate injury counts because these figures aren’t released by any MLB teams, David Glovin of Bloomberg did a great piece that estimated the number of foul ball injuries to be about 1750 per season.
The main call to action I read and hear form others is that MLB needs to put up additional netting. I’ll address this non-starter in a future post, but here’s the short version: Netting would diminish the fan interaction. It would create a barrier that MLB has worked hard to avoid. Baseball is a fan sport like no other. To place a barrier removes the fan from the equation. The result would be a drop in attendance. But as I said, I’ll address this in more depth later.
The simple fact is we don’t need additional netting. We need common sense.
Based on admittedly anecdotal reports, many of the injuries are a result of a scrum. Fans injuring themselves or others while going for the ball, not as a direct result of the ball. Of those more serious injuries, though it appears, assuming my Twitter feed isn’t lying to me, that the majority of those injured are willfully distracting themselves; if so, whose fault does it end up being? We need to start considering the fact that humans get easily distracted by shiny things. But phones should only be used between batters, and between half and full innings. Common sense needs to be exercised.
The solutions to keeping ourselves safe during a baseball game (MLB, MiLB and so on down the line) are simple.
Three simple tips for safety at the field, especially if you have kids:
1) PAY ATTENTION! Don’t use your phone while there’s a batter.
2) If you’ve brought your kids, then sit in the best defensive position for protection:
a. If you sit down the third base line, then sit to the right of your child. This allows you to be between the ball (or bat) and your child.
b. If you’re on the first base side, sit to the left of your kid.
3) Bring a glove. So many people ridicule “grown ass men” who bring gloves to a game, but it’s as much for safety as it is anything else.
By some accounts, fans have a scant ONE second between the ball being batted foul and when it hits them in the face. The ball comes off the bat going upwards of 90 MPH too. A baseball is also called a “hard ball”. The clues are there for fans, especially parents.
Injuries will happen, but failure to prepare for the common dangers at a baseball game is simply neglect by the parents. It is their responsibility to try to protect their child so instances like the case against the Atlanta Braves can be avoided as much as is possible. Risk is inherent in life; we can’t protect against everything, especially stupidity, but we can minimize these tragedies through common sense.
Foul balls and bats go into the stands a lot. These are very common; they are part of the game; baseball tickets and signs even warn against them. If not obvious at this point, my stance regarding the injuries is simple: With foul territory obviously shrinking in newer MLB parks, now more than ever it is your responsibility as a fan to understand the dangers and to protect yourselves and your children from being injured, to the best of your ability. Being a father myself, I hate the thought of a child being injured—superficially or seriously—by a foul ball or anything else for that matter. But that is a risk we take when we attend a baseball game at any level. And we take that risk knowing full well these souvenirs are part of the game.
Working under the assumption the stats from the evidence presented in the 2004 COSTA v. BOSTON RED SOX BASEBALL CLUB (No. 02-P-1433.) by the Boston Red Sox Baseball Club are accurate for that time frame, it’s clear that one second is hardly enough time to react quickly if your nose is buried in a phone at the time. It’s barely enough time to lift your head to see what’s going on.
I understand the redundancy in this, but let’s be repetitive for the sake of clarity: MLB and all other sports have disclaimers that basically go like this: Foul balls and bats come in to the stands. These are a regular and known part of the game. PAY ATTENTION!
The issue with putting up netting is that advocates for this hasty and ill-conceived idea are clearly not thinking straight. Since injuries ALSO happen when home runs are hit, their netting idea would need to include home run territory. This idea diminishes the intimacy of the sport. We might as well just watch the game on TV.
The most common-sense, reasonable and least intrusive option to minimizing child injuries via foul balls is for MLB make the entire upper decks of each and every park into “Family ONLY” seating. This minimizes the chances of children being hit by balls and bats if the parents are going to be negligent. Families can then enjoy the game from a relatively safe distance…and have upwards of about 2 seconds to react.
This preliminary data will be improved upon as more data becomes available, obviously, but the facts are simple: Pay attention.