On May 29 in Houston, Cubs center fielder Albert Almora lined a ball into the stands. It was a moment that happens during every game.
In what is usually an unremarkable moment, the TV cameras caught Almora’s terrified reaction. He cringed. He doubled over. He was visibly distraught.
The cameras also showed the more common sight of fans rallying around a fan who was hit with the ball. Except this time, it clearly was more than just a bruise or a bloody nose. In fact, it was a two-year-old girl who had been hit. She was taken away, but her condition was unclear.
This week, we found out why Almora’s reaction was so visceral. The girl had been hit in the head with the screaming liner and suffered a skull fracture and bleeding on her brain. She’s also suffered seizures, and her prognosis is unclear.
Since then, one team, the Chicago White Sox, has announced plans to extend protective netting down entire length of the foul lines. It’s time for every other team to follow suit.
In fact, MLB should mandate that each team do so. It’s an easy decision.
Over the years, thousands of fans have been hit by foul balls. Some are hit hard, others not so much. From time to time, a bat finds its way into the stands. Amazingly, only a handful of people have suffered serious injuries.
The fact that not many toddlers suffer potentially life-altering injuries isn’t a reason to not add more netting. It’s a perfect reason to do so. One is too many.
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Balls are hit harder more regularly than ever before. At times, even the athletes on the field are unable to react in time, and those are men focused on the action.
Even if fans are looking at the field, there’s certainly no guarantee they’re focused on the swing and direction of the ball. Even if they were, there’s no reason to expect them to be able to avoid or catch a screaming line drive that even Nolan Arenado can barely stop.
The “get off your phone” argument doesn’t hold enough water. Fans should be encouraged to focus on the game, but that doesn’t solve the problem. When a rock-hard projectile is regularly shot into a crowd, it makes sense to do everything to protect the members of the crowd.
The net doesn’t ruin any part of the viewing experience. Ballparks have had netting behind home plate for decades, and those are the most desirable seats in the stadium. A couple years ago, the nets were extended. No one complains.
Sitting behind the nets don’t distract from the game or block the view. If anything, the netting is a reminder of how close to the action you are.
The risk of suffering such a horrific injury is low, even with netting as it is now, but there’s no reason not to move that risk as close to zero as possible.
Fans and families should be able to attend games knowing they’ll leave with memories, memorabilia and good health.