What others say: Keep me safe at the ball game

  • By Chicago Tribune editorial
  • Friday, October 20, 2017 1:54pm
  • Opinion

When Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber connect at the plate, their exit velocity — the speed at which the ball leaves the bat — often exceeds 100 mph. A ball hit that hard travels 146 feet in about a second. And spectators sitting far closer to home plate than that are unprotected and virtually helpless. The netting at Chicago’s Wrigley Field extends only far enough to shield Cubs fans sitting within 70 feet. Netting at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, offers similar protection, in line with the current recommendations from Major League Baseball.

Last season, a fan sitting close to the field at Wrigley was hit by a ball that broke his nose and cost him his left eye. He’s suing the Cubs and Major League Baseball for alleged negligence in not providing longer netting. Three weeks ago, a 2-year-old girl at Yankees Stadium was hospitalized after a foul smashed her in the face at an estimated 105 mph. In 1970, a 14-year-old California boy died of traumatic head injuries after being struck by a lined foul at a Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants game in Dodger Stadium. And baseballs aren’t the only danger: Bats occasionally go flying into the stands.

Baseball stadiums are places that fans go to relax, drink beer, eat hot dogs and chat with their friends. Getting a serious injury from a screaming projectile is not in anyone’s plan. But a 2014 report by Bloomberg News found that 1,750 fans are hurt by foul balls each season.

MLB deserves credit for finally paying more attention to the risk. In 2015, it recommended that each team provide netting to shield all seats within 70 feet of home plate, roughly to the home-plate edge of each dugout.

After the incident at Yankee Stadium, commissioner Rob Manfred said, “We will redouble our efforts on this important issue.” The Cubs, for their part, have promised to add at least 30 feet to their nets at Wrigley next season. A White Sox spokesman says architects and engineers are studying options. Any new recommendations from MLB could be implemented in time for Opening Day 2018.

The Yankees are one of the minority of teams that have declined to meet MLB’s recommended minimum. But even 70 feet leaves a lot of fans perilously exposed. A woman at the White Sox’s park was sitting about 30 feet beyond the visitors’ dugout when a ball hit her in the mouth last month. A New York City councilman has proposed requiring local stadiums to install netting from foul pole to foul pole. In Japan, some stadiums have netting that extends that far.

Here, the City Council Finance Committee recently approved a resolution asking the Cubs and Sox to go beyond the MLB recommendation “to ensure the continued safe enjoyment of this storied pastime.” Even if it passes the full council, though, the measure carries no mandate.

We hope the two Chicago clubs will take this discussion as a chance to stop treating safety as a nuisance. Protecting fans ought to be at the top of the list of ways to improve the ballpark experience. No one goes to a game to see a bleeding spectator carried out on a gurney.

That includes players. Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who was on the field at Yankee Stadium when the toddler was hit, was adamant afterward that “every stadium needs to have nets. That’s it. I don’t care about the damn view of the fan or what. It’s all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach.”

Teams could furnish far more protection, or local governments could force them to. Or everybody could wait until someone else gets killed.

— The Chicago Tribune,

Oct. 17

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