Deflector vs. Distractor: The Case of MLB Safety Nets

Sunday, the Tribe faced off against Kansas City in the third game of their latest three-game series. All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor was originally intended to be out of the lineup, but a change of heart by manager Terry Francona put the .290 bat back in the order as a DH. How or why Tito changed his mind on Lindor Sunday, I don’t know, but that is largely irrelevant.

In the bottom of the sixth, Lindor sent a line shot foul past the first base line into the seats. In the most unfortunate spots the ball could land was a three-year old boy that was struck. First and foremost, it was last stated that the boy had been taken to a local hospital and was doing well. That, above anything, is paramount.

Effective last season, all 30 MLB teams raised protective netting that stretched from the existing netting behind home plate, to the end of each dugout. Lindor’s laser shot on Sunday still managed to find its way past that. The television media was instantly all over it citing fan safety and proposed the netting should be extended.

Now, I don’t know if this discussion will be brought up at the league’s annual winter meetings, however, it is a hot topic for discussion right now. Does the MLB mandate more netting down the first and third base lines? Certainly a subject like this will create a divide.

Let’s look at both sides.

For starters, it can be difficult to argue against safety, especially when it involves kids getting hurt. If the league does run the netting out further, it will most definitely be attached to the foul poles. This way, the entire lower seating in the first and third baseline foul territories will be protected. Goodbye souvenirs. Also, goodbye 100 mph projectile headed toward your face.

The worst injury in baseball I’d ever seen from this was in person decades ago at the old Municipal Stadium. The Orioles were in town and I do believe that was Cal Ripken Jr. up to bat. My father and I were sitting in the upper deck along the first base side, closer to home than to first. Ripken pulled a hard liner foul toward the third base side into the seats. I will never forget that sound.

You heard the crack of the bat hitting the ball, then a mere second or two later, the sound of the ball cracking bone. There was a man in the first few rows who happened to be attending with his young daughter (around three I’d say). Thank God the girl was okay. Unfortunately, the ball struck her father in the head, shattering his cheekbone. Paramedics had taken the father (and daughter) out of the stadium while attendants were scrubbing the blood off the cement in front of the man’s seat. Reports later confirmed that man would be okay.

With such a freak and horrific accident occurring, my question is how many times has this occurred in baseball over the years? Very few I’m guessing. Is the extra netting truly necessary? Not at all.

Baseball can be a very relaxing event to attend. You can chat, you can kick back, you can nurse the suds off a pint. However, and this is a big however, there is still a game going on and you need to be aware of what is going on at all times. There is even verbal and visual disclaimer of this at every single MLB game before the first pitch is thrown.

Here is the counter argument for netting. You were told to pay attention. I understand you or I do not necessarily have the Jedi-reaction time of a MLB player. Still, is that not all the more reason to watch what is taking place from the mound to the plate? If I paid $75 for a seat, you can bet your $12 beer that my eyes are focused on the batter once that pitcher’s windup is underway.

Are we going to further diminish the experience of the game by stretching even more view-obstructing netting at stadiums across the country? What’s next? Barriers at NBA games so players can’t run into fans seated in the first three rows? There are only so many safety measures to be taken before they begin to take away from the game itself.

There is an inherent risk with everything we do, from getting into a car to climbing a ladder to change a lightbulb. We cannot live our lives in a bubble, free from risk and devoid of danger. If you bring a child that young to a sporting event, be prepared to protect them, because that line drive or that deflected slapshot are indiscriminate missiles that can and will do great harm if you are caught daydreaming.

More netting? No. More attention? Yes.

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