The current debate and speculation about the best way to keep baseball fans safe in foul territory at MLB and MiLB games seems to be over. Commissioner Manfred, during the 2015 Winter Meetings, announced that his office would be “encouraging” teams to extend netting another 70 feet in either direction down the foul lines in Major League parks.
The issue with this isn’t that it’s a puerile attempt at pretending to show concern for fan safety (it is). The problem is that it’s nothing more than a puerile attempt to mollify those who are calling for additional netting.
Manfred and others associated with baseball have repeated a mantra that reeks of pacification rather than true depth of caring for fans. The issue with netting is that it’s wrong. On virtually every level of rationalism imaginable.
As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the general assertion that people simply don’t have time to react to a foul ball headed their way is categorically incorrect. The facts regarding average human response time are very clear and contradict the erroneous statements repeated in the media, on the diamonds, in the Commissioner’s Office, in all 30 of the front offices and by lawyers. If an adult is paying attention, they do have the time to react.
Regardless of this fact, there is a much more dangerous problem with respect to foul balls and the injuries they often inflict upon fans: Parental responsibility.
Foul Territory: Reckless Endangerment by Parents
Too often we see parents in the areas that see the more foul balls hit to them with their child strapped to them or holding them. This is, in legal parlance, considered reckless endangerment. They are placing their children in a situation that is known to be dangerous.
This is where MLB has failed miserably to attend to: child safety.
I recommended and continue to recommend that MLB scrap the netting and focus instead on protecting children from their own parents.
The July 2015 complaint filed by Gail Payne, and later amended in October, includes 140 instances of fan injuries. Of those, 25 are of children between 18 months and 11 years of age; all cited examples are of pre-teens. All were seated with their parents in areas along the foul lines that are considered “danger zones,” “foul ball hot zones” or “hot spots” for foul ball action. Thus, in this instances, the parents willfully and knowingly endangered their children.
It’s this aspect of fan safety that gets lost in the emotional debate and the lawsuits.
Payne and others tend to file cases that address netting, not actual fan safety. As can be seen on MLB replays of fans snagging foul balls and being injured by them, parents are a major problem.
MLB isn’t and can’t be responsible for parents failing to protect their children. Regardless of where one stands on the “more netting” debate spectrum, there is still the issue of parental responsibility to their children. A parent is, by the fact they are parents and by law, responsible for the safety of their child(ren).
This is where foul balls and parental responsibility cross, at the junction of the law. What is often ignored in the lawsuits involving injured children is the issue of “reckless endangerment.” Too often in replays we see parents within the “hot zones” for foul balls with their babies and toddlers in their arms or strapped to their backs or chests. With the children in tow, they reach for foul balls and people are in awe the parent caught the ball.
Foul Territory: Parents as Heroes or Horrors?
While true, these are amazing snags, there’s a tendency to lavish kudos upon the talented parent. However, legally, the parent is in violation of the “reckless endangerment” law. The reason is simple: The parents willfully situated themselves in areas in the ballpark known to have a high probability of potentially deadly projectiles.
In a way, it is tantamount to walking through a mine field or a walking in front of a shooter at a gun range. Although one may successfully traverse the mine field or be lucky that a shooter was able to aim past you as you walked by, there is still a very real chance of being injured the next time.
A foul ball, even one that has slowed considerably from its terminal velocity, is still speeding quickly enough to kill a small child in the arms or on the chest of a parent within the hot zones.
What should be MLBs response to parents who willfully endanger their children? Should MLB and MiLB require teams to have family specific sections that are well out of reach of foul balls and broken bats?
The answers to these questions should be obvious, yet MLB and parents have ignored this idea in lieu of debating about extended netting, which only protects a small portion of fans and not the most important fans: Those who aren’t yet old enough to love the game as much as we do…yet. Protecting the children, the future fan base should be the main and perhaps only priority.
What say you parents and MLB? The evidence is mounting.