Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Increase nets at MLB stadiums, reduce the hazard

A fan is attended to after being struck by a broken baseball bat during a game at Fenway Park in June.
A fan is attended to after being struck by a broken baseball bat during a game at Fenway Park in June.

Line drives are shooting everywhere during a Major League Baseball game and not always into fair territory, where opposing players who are paying attention and wearing gloves are ready to catch them.

A 75-year-old woman in the front row behind a dugout isn’t always paying attention. Nor does she often wear a glove – at least none that I’ve seen.

The same can be said for a 2-year-old kid or a businessman on his cell phone or a guy who has been working 14-hour days and is about to nod off because the game is plodding along.

These people need protection. These people need for MLB to make the logical, long overdue step of putting up more protecting netting at its ballparks.

Some will see this as caving in. Some will believe this is just more evidence of the “wussification” of American society. Some will regard a move toward more safety as unnecessary and interfering in the “ballpark experience.”

But line drives are dangerous, especially to those not equipped to handle them.

Every time a batter whistles a shot into the stands, I cringe. So do many of the batters. I watch their reactions after such an incident and have seen the best hitters in the world look away immediately or use body language to indicate their fear that a ball they just struck might strike some unknowing fan in the seats.

There is netting behind home plate in every MLB ballpark and it stretches close to the dugouts on the first- and third-base line. Those fans sitting behind the protective netting can look at their cell phone or have a sip of beer without concern that they’re going to take a baseball in the side of the head.

Why aren’t other fans afford that same protection? It makes no sense.

Netting should be extended to at least beyond the dugouts and perhaps even 20 or 30 feet farther down the lines. Where’s the harm?

Yes, netting provides a slight obstruction in viewing. But it isn’t significant.

Speaking personally, I am scared to sit in the lower box seats that are unprotected by netting at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Many years ago, farther down the third-base line, I was sitting and talking to a female friend during a late-night National Baseball Congress World Series game. A foul ball was hit and I could see it coming toward us from the corner of my eye. I moved out of the way of the baseball but it struck my friend in the face. She had to be rushed to the hospital. She wasn’t seriously injured, but she was injured more than she should have been.

Neither of us were really paying attention to the game. Nobody goes to the ballpark to pay attention to the game for three solid hours. And especially in this age of social media and technology, paying attention is becoming a lost art.

Nets can protect those who aren’t paying attention. And those who are paying attention but who lack the agility or reflexes to protect themselves.

In an interview with “USA Today,” Pat Courtney, chief communications officer for Major League Baseball, said: "We are in the midst of a comprehensive study related to fan safety and are evaluating a number of issues. If MLB and its clubs determine change are necessary, then it is anticipated that a complete proposal would be made this off-season, ahead of the 2016 season.''

How comprehensive does this study need to be? People are getting injured in the stands by foul balls. Netting would prevent many of those injuries. That should just about wrap up the study, shouldn’t it?

Broken bats are also a threat to fan safety and bats break with more regularity now than ever. A woman was seriously injured when part of a bat struck her in the face during a game at Boston’s Fenway Park in June.

The “USA Today” ballpark safety story stated that, according to Edwin Comber, director of foulballz.com, there are 53,000 foul balls that enter the seats every season. And 1,750 spectators are injured every season by batted balls at major league games, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg News.

People don’t buy tickets to baseball games so that they can dodge rockets. And few are aware of the dangers, even if they should be. It’s just not logical to put people in places where they’re unprotected.

This is a no-brainer. Put up more netting. Protect more people. Danger shouldn’t lurk at a big league ballgame.

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