Whether you love or detest Statcast, no one can deny that its advent has enabled us to truly appreciate the terrifying speeds at which baseballs travel on the daily in the major leagues. That we never bat an eye when hitters make contact on 95 mph pitches, or when infielders pick 100 mph grounders hit right at them, is a testament to the extent to which we fans take their athleticism for granted.
Essentially, the game of baseball revolves around the launching and subsequent handling of potentially lethal projectiles. As such, ensuring the safety of players, staff, and especially spectators, who are most unqualified to handle balls traveling towards them, should be high among MLB’s priorities. Alas, in this regard the sport still has a ways to go.
This point is made clear whenever fans are struck by well-hit foul balls. The latest such incident occurred on May 29th, when a screamer off the bat of Albert Almora, Jr. hit a young fan at Minute Maid Park. According to reports, the child was apparently sitting in the field-level seats beyond the third-base side dugout. Since the protective netting at Minute Maid Park extends only to the far ends of both dugouts, the section where the youngster was sitting was unprotected. There are still no updates on the child’s condition.
Yankee Stadium III features more comprehensive protective netting than Minute Maid Park. The netting at the Stadium extends well beyond both dugouts, covering all field-level seats. However, that wasn’t always the case. The Yankees only made the decision to extend their protective netting beyond the dugouts after they had a similar accident on their own hands.
On September 20th, 2017, Todd Frazier hit a 105 mph foul ball that struck a two-year-old in the face. The youngster was hospitalized, and thankfully she is still alive and well. However, she sustained skull fractures and brain hemorrhaging as a result of the impact, and may require surgery on her nose and orbital bones as she grows older, according to her father.
Following the accident, the Yankees announced that they would extend their protective netting from 2018 onward. Thankfully, they kept their word. Although it’s unfortunate that their decision had to be spurred on by such a horrific event, late is infinitely more preferable than never. Hopefully, the Astros will follow suit.
Of course, as with basically every other change for the better in society, there is a small section of contrarians complaining about the growing trend towards extended protective netting. Chief among their arguments is their concern for the fan experience. That is, they argue, among other things, that extended netting interferes with their view of the diamond at an unacceptable level.
There is a modicum of truth to this argument, it must be admitted. Of course one can see the field more clearly without netting than with it. Yet contrarians vastly overstate the degree to which netting obstructs their view. Since the start of the 2018 season, fan complaints about the extended netting has hardly ever been an issue.
Indeed, a google search for “yankees netting complaints” reveals just one article actually featuring fan complaints about the view, an April 2018 article in the New York Times about the poles supporting the netting, rather than the netting itself, being a nuisance. The Yankees have since then replaced the poles with a steel cable scheme which suspends the netting from above. As far as I’m aware, no public outcry has occurred concerning the view at Yankee Stadium to this date. So much for that argument.
Views at ballparks have been a non-issue. What has continued to make headlines is foul ball-induced injuries at ballparks with relatively less protective netting, like the young fan struck at Minute Maid Park, or the elderly fan who was hit at Dodger Stadium last year and passed away as a result. All of this is just more evidence that teams need to be doing more to ensure fan safety at ballparks. Kudos to the Yankees for extending their netting last year. Now let’s see if they can play an active part in moving the discussion forward.