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Commissioner Says Baseball Will Look At Expanding Safety Netting In Stadiums In Offseason

MLB Commissioner Wants To Make Games Safer For Fans We all remember the terrible images last week of a 4-year-old girl in the stands being struck by a line...

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

MLB Commissioner Wants To Make Games Safer For Fans

We all remember the terrible images last week of a 4-year-old girl in the stands being struck by a line drive at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. We remember the reaction of the batter, Albert Almora of the Chicago Cubs, who was completely shaken by what had happened and remained so after the game.

Fans being injured by baseballs or pieces of broken bats aren’t new, and Major League Baseball – read the back of your ticket – assumes no responsibility for the risks you take attending a game. Even so, MLB’s 30 teams, at the recommendation (but not the requirement) of the commissioner’s office, had expanded protective netting from behind home plate to at least the end of the dugouts for this season.

Now the discussion is about whether nets should go further.

Seems simple, right? Extend the nets, protect the people.

But it’s not that simple. Many who attend games want a clear, uninhibited view of the field. They are quick to point out how many fans aren’t even paying attention – staring at their phones, juggling a cardboard carton of food and drink – and are therefore unable to protect themselves or their kids from the ball.

Commissioner Rob Manfred weighed in on Tuesday, considering both viewpoints.

“Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” he said. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with ‘beyond the dugout,’ I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets.

“I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”

Baseball draws about 73 million to its games each season, with about 1,750 injuries. As we noted, the injured assume all risks per a 100-year-old court ruling. And where is the balance? Fans have been injured in the outfield bleachers – must netting reach that far? Are 1,750 injuries statistically significant? They certainly are to the injured. With baseballs traveling at 110 miles an hour, how many fans are capable of reacting quickly enough to protect themselves?

This will be a tricky balancing act. Can fans seated far from the field enjoy the game from behind a net? They certainly can’t enjoy it from a hospital bed.

 
 
Post By: Larry Weisman, a longtime sportswriter for USA TODAY, blogs for Twistity.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrLarryWeisman

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