By Ken Reed

At League of Fans, part of our mission statement is “to encourage safety … in sports industry and culture.”

As such, I would be negligent if I didn’t address the recent incident in Major League Baseball (MLB) in which a 4-year-old girl was struck and injured by a line drive off Albert Almora Jr.’s bat in a game between the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. Almora Jr. was visibly shaken at home plate after the incident. He kneeled down crying and had to be consoled.

A few days later (this past Saturday), a little boy was struck by a line drive foul ball at a minor league baseball game at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The boy was sitting down the first base line. He was treated by on-site EMT personnel and then taken out of the stadium on a gurney, while on his way to the hospital.

“I [saw] the dad come in and pick him up, but I didn’t see him talking or crying. They carried him up into the pavilion. Then a couple of minutes later I could hear him screaming,” said Tonya Lipscomb who was at the game. “It was horrifying, it was traumatizing and scary.”

Major League Baseball positions itself as an organization providing great family entertainment. As such, MLB can’t have little girls and boys being beaned by baseballs traveling upwards of 100 mph during a family outing at the ballpark. Or, 84-year-old grandmothers and grandfathers. Or, any fan, for that matter.

It’s a simple fix. Major League Baseball (as well as its minor league baseball affiliates) needs to simply extend the protective netting from behind home plate, passed the dugouts, down to each of the foul poles — or at least halfway.

After another small child was hit by a foul ball two years ago behind the third base dugout at a Yankees game, MLB required protective netting that stretched between the far ends of each dugout in every MLB stadium. That was a smart move. It has undoubtedly prevented a lot of fan injuries at MLB ballparks.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that based on the recent incidents in Houston and Indianapolis, the netting currently doesn’t go far enough.

Jana Brody, lost her mother Linda Goldbloom, last year after Goldbloom was stuck by a foul ball in a section that didn’t have protective netting. She died from a brain hemorrhage. Brody calls MLB’s failure to extend protective netting as “unconscionable.”

Anyone who saw the sickening and heart-wrenching video of the little girl getting hit in Houston — and Almora’s reaction — had to feel at least somewhat the same way.

MLB franchises are reluctant to put up more netting in front of expensive seats for fear fans will complain about not having a clear view. However, protective netting, or screens, are nothing new at baseball games. Backstops, often made of chain link fencing at lower levels, are nearly as old as baseball itself. Fans adapt to the protective measures.

Some of the most expensive seats in every stadium are directly behind home plate, where patrons have always had to look through protective netting to see the action. Those seats rarely go empty despite top-dollar pricing.

I recently was fortunate enough to sit 15 rows behind home place at a Major League Baseball game. After a couple minutes I didn’t even notice the protective netting. The view was outstanding.

“It’s ridiculous that it takes a 4-year-old girl getting hit in the face for us to have this conversation,” says Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta. “It’s just so unfortunate. I have two kids. Almora has kids. Nobody wants to see something like this happen.”

Of course not. And it doesn’t have to keep happening. Just extend the protective netting down the lines.

Hey MLB honchos, if you want to provide wholesome family entertainment then start doing all you can do to make sure little kids don’t get nailed by hard, screaming orbs.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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