Barely a year after all major-league ballparks were required to comply with mandates to extend protective netting past the dugouts, the horrifying foul-ball incident Wednesday in Houston is raising renewed calls to extend the netting to the foul poles.
It’s already implemented in Japan’s major leagues, and Major League Baseball stopped short of addressing it in a statement released by the commissioner’s office Thursday.
“The events at last night’s game were extremely upsetting. We send our best wishes to the child and family involved,” the statement read. “Clubs have significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years. With last night’s event in mind, we will continue our efforts on this important issue.”
An MLB spokesman said the league is not prepared to respond further to specific calls for foul-pole-to-foul-pole netting.
The incident in Houston, in which a 4-year-old girl was hospitalized after being struck by a line drive by the Cubs’ Albert Almora, was one of two similar incidents in the same night. A man was struck in the head by a foul ball hit by the Dodgers’ Alex Verdugo at Dodger Stadium. He appeared to be OK.
But last August at Dodger Stadium, a 79-year-old woman was struck in the head by a foul ball that cleared the screen behind home plate, and she died of her injuries four days later.
Players on both teams in Houston were visibly shaken watching the little girl, sitting about 10 feet past the protective screen past third base, get hit by a ball estimated to be traveling in excess of 90 mph.
Her condition still was not known.
“Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium,” Almora said, his voice cracking as he spoke after the game.
Other Cubs players, including Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward, also spoke to media after the game about the need to consider extending the netting to the foul poles.
“Just for safety, the well-being of people,” said Heyward, who was on deck at the time of the incident and was the first to console the distraught Almora. “People don’t realize how hard it is to react to a baseball. So it would help.
“But we know we can’t control it. Stadiums know they can’t necessarily control how fast the game is. But if there’s anything to do, I guess that would be it. I’m not the stadium police, but I don’t know any other way to stop that from happening.”
Until greater precautions are taken, baseball could be playing with fire as it waits to take action while watching balls being hit harder than ever during an era of smart-phone distractions and the slowest pace of play in the sport’s history.
Several incidents of fans being injured by foul balls in 2017 led to extending the lengths of protective netting currently mandated by MLB.
Baseball might be forced after the dramatic scene in Houston to take further measures.
“The adjustments they’ve made in the last couple of years obviously have helped a lot with respect to foul balls and balls flying into the stands,” Collin McHugh, the Astros’ union representative, said Wednesday (via
the Houston Chronicle). “Tonight was hard to watch, hard to see. As a father myself, and we have a lot of parents in this room, our hearts are with the family and with the little girl.
“Safety is a paramount for us, both for our safety and the safety of the fans and the families that are coming to watch us. It’s obviously up to Major League Baseball to make those adjustments.”