What’s another 20 feet?
Better that than another little girl in the hospital, another little boy carried out of a ballpark on a stretcher, another man blinded in one eye.
Major League Baseball already recommends that ball clubs drape protective netting all the way from home plate to the inner side of dugouts to protect fans from screaming foul balls and broken bats. The White Sox have complied with the recommendation, and the Cubs plan to extend their netting that far by next year.
But the “hot zone” in a park for a hard-hit foul ball extends farther than that. For the safety of fans, clubs would be wise — if only to spare themselves the lawsuits — to extend the netting another 20 feet or so, to the far end of dugouts. In New York, the city council is considering an ordinance to force the Mets and Yankees to do just that, while in Japan extended netting is the norm. In many Japanese stadiums, the netting extends all the way to to the foul poles.
We understand the trade-off involved. Baseball is a wonderfully intimate game, where fans can feel like they are right on top of the action, especially from the most expensive seats. A net can interfere with that experience.
But the nets used today are barely visible. And while we’ve seen no statistics on this, anecdotal evidence suggests the risk to fans from foul balls and flying bats has grown. Possibly this is because modern ballparks are full of distractions such as jumbotrons and blasting music. A fan may never notice the ball or bat coming.
Is this “nanny state” government overreach, as diehard traditionalists grump? Not really. The hope is that every ball club, including the Cubs and Sox, will voluntarily go the extra mile — or, rather, the extra 20 feet — to protect their fans.
At a Yankees game in May, a little boy was hit in the forehead by a shattered bat. At a Yankees game in September, a 2-year-old girl was struck in the face by a line drive foul ball. She may have permanent vision loss.
At Wrigley Field on Aug. 29, a 60-year-old fan, John “Jay” Loos, was hit in the eye by a foul ball. He likely has lost his vision in that eye.
At a press conference on Monday, at which he discussed a suit he has filed against MLB and the Cubs, Loos called for the safety netting to be extended at every park.
“Fans are the life-blood of Mayor League Baseball,” he said. “There should be nothing more important than their safety.”
We love baseball, especially now with the Cubs back in the playoffs. But we especially love safe baseball.
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