An incident during last night's Cubs-Astros game, where a young girl was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs CF Albert Almora Jr., "cast a pall over much of the night and underscored baseball's continuing battle with fan safety in an era of smart-phone distractions and balls being struck harder than ever before," according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. The young fan's condition -- some social media reports "suggested she was 4 -- was not immediately known." The Astros released a statement postgame that said only that she was at a "nearby hospital." This incident is "sure to raise new calls for even more protections for fans," barely a year after MLB "mandated protective netting be extended in all ballparks past the dugouts." Almora after the game said, "Right now, I want to put a net around the whole stadium" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/30). Cubs 3B Kris Bryant following the game said, "Let's just put fences up around the whole field. It's so sad when you see stuff like that happen. ... There's a lot of kids coming to the games -- young kids who want to watch us play -- and the balls come in hard. The speed of the game is quick, and any safety measure we can take to make sure that the fans are safe, we should do it" ("Cubs-Astros," ESPN, 5/29).
MORE PROTECTION NEEDED: YAHOO SPORTS' Mark Townsend wrote all 30 MLB teams had "met and exceeded the suggested distance by extending netting behind each dugout" prior to '18 season. However, there has "still been plenty of debate over whether even that distance is enough." The "scary incident in Houston would indicate that more could be and should be done to protect all fans, and especially those who are very young" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/29). USA TODAY's Steve Gardner wrote even though all MLB teams have "extended the protective netting around home plate in recent years, they can't prevent all incidents like this one." Minute Maid Park, like all MLB ballparks, "has netting to protect fans near the field from foul balls." On the third base side, it "extends to the end of the visiting team's dugout." Last night, the girl was "sitting in what looked to be the third or fourth row about 10 feet past where the netting ends" (USATODAY.com, 5/29). Astros manager A.J. Hinch said the nets at Minute Maid Park "have been extended as far as anywhere in baseball" ("Cubs-Astros," ESPN, 5/29).
TIME FOR CHANGE: ESPN.com's Jeff Passan wrote it is "well past time" for teams to "extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole." Passan: "There is no argument against this, no humane argument at least, not when this keeps happening again and again and again. ... What will it take? Someone dying?" Passan noted that"happened last August, when Dodgers fan Linda Goldbloom was "hit in the head with a foul ball and died of a brain hemorrhage." If a woman "dying in the stands is not enough to convince MLB and its 30 teams to expand netting up and out, what will?" Figuring out a "solution -- protecting people -- is more than well worth whatever time and expense it takes" (ESPN.com, 5/29). ESPN's Mike Golic said extending the netting "is just a no-brainer." Golic: "It shouldn't even bring up the argument of, 'It's hard to see through the netting.' You'll get used to it. ... It should be the easiest conversation of all time." ESPN's Mike Golic Jr.: "What more can you get besides the death of a child that's really going to drive you to make the right decision?" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 5/30).
The Las Vegas City Council will "consider a deal next week to build a new soccer stadium on the site of Cashman Field to house" a potential MLS expansion franchise, according to a front-page piece by Shea Johnson of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. If city leaders approve the exclusive negotiating agreement with Arizona-based construction management firm The Renaissance Companies on Wednesday, it will "set off a 180-day window for talks to construct the stadium and mixed-use development on 62 acres where city-owned Cashman Field is located near downtown, with hopes of reaching a master development agreement." Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said that the idea beyond the new stadium would be to "build hotels and apartments while keeping Cashman Field to allow Las Vegas Lights FC to continue to play" in the USL until the team was "ready to join the MLS, and then be used as a practice field." The exclusive negotiating agreement also requires that Lights ownership "work with the city to submit an application to MLS for the Lights to become an expansion team." Lights Owner & CEO Brett Lashbrook said that he has "agreed to sell the team to an investor represented by Renaissance, contingent upon the company and the city entering into the master development agreement." City documents made public yesterday "show the investor is Baupost Group LLC, a hedge fund managed by billionaire Seth Klarman" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/30).
A STEP FORWARD: In Las Vegas, Alan Snel noted the potential 25,000-seat soccer-specific stadium "still has not been priced out." Lights coach Eric Wynalda said that a new downtown soccer stadium "would attract global soccer teams like Real Madrid that would play friendlies and make Las Vegas a 'global soccer destination.'" Meanwhile, Lashbrook said that Goodman "plans to attend the MLS expansion committee meeting in Orlando in July to lobby for Las Vegas as an expansion city" (LVSPORTSBIZ.com, 5/29). Also in Las Vegas, Justin Emerson notes Las Vegas five years ago "attempted a bid for an MLS team." Developers proposed a $201M stadium, of which the city of Las Vegas "would pick up" 76% of the cost and "own the stadium." City officials said that they "expected the split to be closer to 50-50" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 5/30).
Wizards games at Capital One Arena will "feature a new place for fans with VIP tickets to follow the action next season, with the addition of a courtside patio" being called The District, according to Scott Allen of the WASHINGTON POST. The new patio will consist of a "roughly 1,000-square foot space featuring a bar and offering an 'enhanced culinary experience.'" It will be "located in the east end zone of the arena," and an "undisclosed number of seats will be removed from Sections 105 and 106 to make room for the patio and 84 new VIP seats will be added." The District is part of $15M worth of "privately funded upgrades being made to Capital One Arena this summer, the second phase of a two-year project" that began with $40M in renovations last summer. A new "center-hung scoreboard with a 360-degree continuous video screen, curved video boards in the upper corners of the arena and 20,000 square footage of LED signage are also scheduled to debut in the fall" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/29). In DC, Tyler Byrum noted The District will have a "bar with food options, while still having access to the MGM National Harbor VIP Lounge and the Etihad Airways Lounge" (NBCSPORTSWASHINGTON.com, 5/29).
Orlando City and its development academy, USL club Orlando City B, will be "housed at the club's new Osceola Heritage Park training facility" in Kissimmee by '20, according to Jordan Culver of PRO SOCCER USA. Orlando City Exec VP/Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said that housing the "full scope of Orlando City's developmental structure -- from the academy to the first team -- at one facility means things will work in a way that's impossible when everything is spread out." Muzzi said that he did not "have the exact cost for the move," though he did "confirm construction of the training facility was scheduled to be completed within two months." Orlando City's first team was "originally scheduled to move to Kissimmee" midway through this season." The team's move "signals the end of Orlando City's partnership with Montverde Academy," a local private school that had "housed the club's academy and second team" since January '18. Meanwhile, the NWSL Orlando Pride will "remain in Sanford, but move to a renovated Sylvan Lake Park," where construction is "set to begin at the end of the MLS season and will be completed by February." Pride GM Erik Ustruck "declined to go into specifics regarding the cost of the renovations." However, he said that the "investment from the club is 'significant.'" The Pride's new facility will be the "first of its kind in the NWSL" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 5/29).