Foul Territory: More Fouls, but More Injuries?

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? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps a great deal.

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.NewSiteBackGround

Smaller territory not only means more foul balls travel into the stands (presumably) it also translates into the potential for more injuries and more foul ball souvenirs for fans. Though I am loathe to use clichés most of the time, this creates a sort of double-edged sword effect. While fans might 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 main reason I took down the FoulBallz app until I can figure out a way for it to not be a distraction; safety first.).

Add to this “apparent” increase in fouls (historical evidence appears to contradict this commonly held belief) 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 the last two seasons, 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.

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I can’t say if the father of the poor girl who was seriously injured at an Atlanta Braves game was on his phone or not while there was a batter at the plate, but if he was, whose fault is it really for the injury? 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.

The solutions to keeping ourselves safe during a baseball game (MLB, MiLB and so on down the line) are simple. These simple “rules” will avoid instances like the Pirates game.

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; don’t turn your back on the action. If you need to get to your seat, wait until there’s a break in the action before proceeding.
  2. 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, especially if you have very young kids.
  3. If you brought your kids, then sit in the best defensive position for protection:
    1. 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.
    2. If you’re on the first base side, sit to the left of your kid.

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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.

By some accounts, fans have a scant ONE second between the ball being batted foul and when it hits them in the face. I disagree, but the data I have—1.4 seconds on average; more quickly or less quickly depending on your seat—allows for nearly half a second more to react. That is based on timing of 121 foul balls during Tigers games during the 2014 season. Regardless of the time, the ball can come off the bat going upwards of 90 MPH too, and that means little time to react. Also, the baseball is called a “hard ball”; that in and of itself should tip off fans. 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.

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Foul balls and bats go into the stands a lot. These are very common; they are part of the game; baseball tickets even warn against them. If not obvious at this point, our 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.

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.

To continue the discussion, join FoulBallz on Twitter @FoulBallz.