Around 66 million people every year catch a game at a Major League Baseball park. More than 1,000 are injured. We should do something about that.
Around 66 million people every year enjoy one of our nation’s greatest pastimes, catching a baseball game at a Major League Baseball park. Fans join their friends and family, eating hotdogs and peanuts.They sing the National Anthem at the start of the game and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the Seventh Inning Stretch. Some of the more dedicated fans keep scorecards of home runs, RBIs, and earned run averages.
Sadly, there’s another statistic that we’ve been seeing more and more of lately: fan injuries from foul balls.
A Bloomberg report from 2014 estimates that 1,750 fans suffer injuries in Major League Baseball stands every season. And a survey by the polling organization FiveThirtyEight found that 14,000 more foul balls were hit in 2018 than in 1998.
In 2016, Bryant Gumbel traveled to Washington State’s sports science lab for his HBO show “Real Sports.” At their baseball stadium, they tested people’s reaction times to an average line drive from 75 feet away and behind protective glass.
In New York in 2017. (Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP)
Young and not so young. Men and women. Focused and slightly distracted. No one could react in six-tenths of a second. Point being: there’s no way we can expect fans to protect themselves entirely, especially with 105-miles-per-hour balls coming off the bat.
Keep fans safe
The league and the teams must do more to keep their fans safe.
In 2017, after a child was hit by a line drive at Yankee Stadium in New York, I wrote to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. I urged the league to extend safety netting at all MLB stadiums past the home plate area to the far edge of each dugout. To their credit, the league did exactly that.
But this year, on May 29, a two-year-old girl was hit by a foul ball at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Seated beyond the safety netting past the dugout, she suffered bleeding, bruises, and a skull fracture from the ball’s impact.
Cubs’ outfielder Albert Almora, who hit the ball, was so devastated by the little girl’s injuries that he could barely speak. But he did manage to say this: “I want to put a net around the whole stadium.”
Changes should be league-wide
Hey, Albert, I agree. And Major League Baseball should too.
In the weeks following the Minute Maid Park injury, we have seen more fans hit in the stands. On June 10, a woman was struck by a line drive at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. Two weeks later, a young woman was hit by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
I commend the Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals,Texas Rangers, and Pittsburgh Pirates for taking the proactive step to announce they will look to extend netting to the foul poles. But the seriousness of the issue merits a league-wide standard.
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Last month, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and I wrote to Commissioner Manfred calling on all 30 MLB teams to extend the protective netting to the right- and left-field corners.
There will be folks that say extending the safety netting to the foul poles will create an obstructed view of the field. However, for years, the most expensive and popular seats at baseball games have been behind the safety netting. Ultimately, we should all want to attend a game not worrying about our own safety, let alone our grandchildren or children. Seventy-eight percent of fans agree that netting is a good idea, and I’m one of them.
I urge Commissioner Manfred and all teams to extend safety netting at all MLB ballparks to the foul poles. It shouldn’t wait until next season — increased fan safety is a win for everyone on the field.
Dick Durbin, the Senate Democratic whip, is a US Senator from Illinois. Follow him on Twitter: @SenatorDurbin.
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