A young girl who was "seated directly behind the third-base dugout" at Yankee Stadium was hit in the face yesterday by a foul ball, adding to the debate about what MLB "should do to better protect its fans," according to Wallace Matthews of the N.Y. TIMES. Teams in '15 "agreed to extend the traditional protective netting behind home plate to at least the inner edge of both dugouts." A third of the teams have "extended the netting further, to at least the far end of the dugout," but the Yankees are not one of them. If Yankee Stadium had netting in place that "did stretch to the far end of the third-base dugout," the line drive hit by Yankees 3B Todd Frazier likely "would not have reached the stands." The incident will "almost certainly increase pressure on the Yankees to act quickly to make their netting longer." N.Y. Council member Rafael Espinal, who introduced legislation in May to require all N.Y. ballparks to have protective netting all the way to the foul poles, said that he would "hold a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 25." Twins 2B Brian Dozier, whose team lost to the Yankees yesterday, said, “Every stadium needs to have nets. I don’t care about the damn view of the fan. It’s all about safety" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/21). In N.Y., John Harper notes yesterday's incident comes less than two months after Yankees RF Aaron Judge "injured an adult man in similar fashion, prompting more calls for the Yankees to follow the Mets’ lead and extend their netting." However, when a child is involved, it "often stirs more emotion." Phillies SS Freddy Galvis last season hit a child with a foul ball, and sources said that Galvis' comments "convinced" the Phillies to "extend their netting last offseason" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/21). ESPN’s Michael Smith noted the Yankees in July said that they are "seriously exploring extending the netting for 2018." Smith: "Maybe it takes a child being involved to really stop it” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 9/20). ESPN's Mike Golic: “This, unfortunately, is the type of thing that is sometimes the final straw to bring change" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 9/21).
DEALING WITH A POTENTIAL TRAGEDY: In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes if a young girl "getting struck in the face by a line drive on Wednesday doesn’t compel ownership to act, what else is left besides the unthinkable?" Shame on the Yankees that the Mets "acted more responsibly, extending the netting at Citi Field to 30 feet in height, wrapping around the camera wells beyond both dugouts." Klapisch: "How many more near misses does it take to address the insanity of leaving the public at the mercy of 100-mph line drives?" (Bergen RECORD, 9/21). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes MLB has to be "hit in the face with a cold bucket of common sense." The Mets "extended the netting at Citi Field over the All-Star break," and the Yankees "have to spend the next four days doing the same thing." The team needs to "have it in place by the time they play" the Royals at home on Monday. Common sense has to "carry the day now, because it’s true: One of these days, someone is going to get killed" (N.Y. POST, 9/21). MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said, "Aren't they going to get to a point where they put the netting up all the way?" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 9/21).
DON'T WAIT UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE: ESPN's John Buccigross said someone "is going to die" if netting is not extended. Buccigross: "It happened in an NHL game in 2002, a little girl got hit by a puck. She was fine the next day. There was a torn artery unbeknownst to doctors and she passed away. Gary Bettman put mandatory netting in both end zones of the NHL rinks. It's been there ever since and there haven’t been any fatalities since. It's time for baseball -- players are hitting the ball too hard and they’re too close” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/21). ESPN's Mark Teixeira said, “It’s like a dangerous intersection. We should put a light here. This is a dangerous intersection. You wait for a fatal crash to put the light in. Don’t wait. Let’s be proactive about this. Put the nets up everywhere and we won’t see this ever again” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/20).
TALKS CONTINUE WITH TEAMS: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said extending the netting "remains an ongoing discussion in the industry." He said, "We gave some guidelines two years ago, and what we have done since then is that we have encouraged the individual clubs to engage in a localized process, look at their own stadiums -- every stadium's different -- and to try to make a good decision about how far the netting should go in order to promote fan safety" (ESPN.com, 9/20). SI.com's Gabriel Baumgaertner writes there are "enough cases" for MLB to "merit mandatory protective netting to, at least, the ends of each dugout." Maybe yesterday’s incident will be "what prompts significant change" (SI.com, 9/21). Twins manager Paul Molitor: "The clubs that have gone beyond what was required have been glad that they did, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets readdressed and they continue to try to expand what they’re trying to do to protect the fans" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/21).
COULD DEMAND FOR CLOSE SEATS DECREASE? On Long Island, David Lennon notes it is "hard to make ... a blanket demand from an engineering standpoint" since Manfred acknowledges all ballparks are different. However, the part that "isn’t discussed as much publicly is the concern expressed by some teams that the netting will make their most expensive seats less desirable." Some fans "don’t want to watch through a screen" and teams are "sensitive to the opinions of their paying customers." Lennon: "Why else would two-thirds of the league be dragging their feet on this critical fan-safety issue?" (NEWSDAY, 9/21). ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, "When you’re sitting down by the field, you feel like you are right there. ... If there is a net in between you -- and even if you’re still that close -- it’s not the same thing. They don't want to take that away. There is a lot of interaction at times between players in the batter's box, they don't want that stuff to be lost. I get it, I understand that. But you can't have four-year-old girls getting hit in the face with balls either. You just can’t have that” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 9/21).
HIDING BEHIND LEGALESE: YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan writes "obscene amounts of money go toward ballpark experience and ambience and amenities," but because "courts of law have upheld that the disclaimer on the back of tickets indemnifies teams from balls and bats whirring into the stands, they treat safety as if it’s of no concern." This is "more than negligence," as it is the "witting abdication of moral responsibility." Passan: "It is in every sense of the word shameful." The Nationals, Rangers, Royals and Twins each "introduced extended netting" before the '16 season, with the Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves and Astros joining them before this season. The Mets proved that "installing new netting in the middle of the year isn’t some unreasonable expectation." Passan: "None of this is excessive. It is right, and it is just, and if teams aren’t willing to act themselves, it is Manfred’s duty to make them" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/21).
CALLING FOR A FIX: Following the incident, Twitter was replete with calls for more netting at ballparks. The official feed of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" noted, "According to a recent survey by Bloomberg News, approximately 1,750 people are injured at MLB games each year." Yahoo Sports' Passan: "Mitigating this particular risk is especially easy and with few, if any, drawbacks." Chicago-based WSCR-AM's Jay Zawaski: "Imagine being mad about extending the netting at a baseball game. A 3 year old was nearly killed. It's long overdue. Get it done, @mlb." The AP's Alan Saunders: "I would love for every person bitching about netting at baseball games to sit 50 ft away and let MLB players hit 105 MPH liners at them." Reds blogger Doug Gray: "Real shame that baseball is going to have to have someone die before they extend the nets down the lines."