They put up more nets, but in­juries keep com­ing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Baseball - BY BILLY WITZ AND TYLER KEPNER New York Times

A broad out­cry af­ter a small girl was hit in the head by a foul ball at Yan­kee Sta­dium two years ago spurred Ma­jor League Base­ball to do some­thing it had re­peat­edly re­sisted: It com­pelled all 30 teams to ex­tend pro­tec­tive net­ting to the far end of dugouts.

The ques­tion, raised again af­ter an­other episode Wed­nes­day night in which a young girl was in­jured by a line drive in Hous­ton, is whether MLB has gone far enough to keep fans safe.

In Wed­nes­day’s game, a scene eerily rem­i­nis­cent of the one in the Bronx was re­peated: An­other small girl was cra­dled in the arms of a man as he hus­tled up the sta­dium steps to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion for her. The play­ers who wit­nessed the in­ci­dent were vis­i­bly shaken.

The girl was in­jured in the third in­ning, when a line drive off the bat of Chicago Cubs cen­ter fielder Al­bert Almora Jr. whis­tled into the seats in Sec­tion 111, just past the vis­i­tors dugout down the left-field line where there is no pro­tec­tive net­ting.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, Almora put his hands on his hel­met and Hous­ton Astros catcher Robin­son Chiri­nos turned his head away. Almora took sev­eral steps to­ward his dugout, then dropped to his knees. He had to be con­soled by his man­ager, Joe Mad­don, and his team­mate Ja­son Hey­ward as the girl, who had a yel­low bow in her hair and was cry­ing, was car­ried away for treat­ment.

Af­ter a brief de­lay, the game re­sumed. An in­ning later, Almora was in tears when he talked to a se­cu­rity guard near Sec­tion 111, em­brac­ing her be­fore be­ing led by his team­mates back into the dugout. The Astros said in a state­ment that the girl had been taken to the hos­pi­tal but they an­nounced noth­ing about her con­di­tion.

“As soon as I hit it, the first per­son I locked eyes on was her,” Almora, who has two young boys, told reporters af­ter the game. He added: “Right now, I’m just pray­ing and I’m speech­less. I’m at a loss for words.”

The episode brought re­newed an­guish for Ge­of­frey Ja­cob­son. It was his daugh­ter, weeks shy of her sec­ond birth­day, who was hos­pi­tal­ized with mul­ti­ple facial frac­tures and bleed­ing on the brain af­ter be­ing hit by a foul ball at Yan­kee Sta­dium on Sept. 17, 2017.

“Heart­break­ing,” Ja­cob­son said Thurs­day in a phone in­ter­view, call­ing on MLB to ex­tend net­ting to the foul poles at all sta­di­ums. “Ob­vi­ously it stirs up a lot of emo­tion, and it’s very upset­ting. You hope their daugh­ter is OK, but you can’t help but think it’s so un­nec­es­sary. It’s like re­liv­ing it all over again – it’s all over the news, the pho­to­graphs, pre­sum­ably her fa­ther car­ry­ing her out of the stands. It didn’t have to hap­pen.”

Ja­cob­son’s daugh­ter is do­ing well, he said, but has reg­u­lar check­ups with a neu­rol­o­gist and an oph­thal­mol­o­gist.

For more than 100 years, a dis­claimer has been printed on the back of ev­ery Ma­jor League Base­ball ticket warn­ing of the “risk and dan­ger in­her­ent to the game” and the pos­si­bil­ity of in­jury from, among other things, “thrown or bat­ted balls.”

But the game and the view­ing con­di­tions have changed greatly in a cen­tury. Bulked-up pitch­ers and hit­ters are throw­ing and swing­ing harder than ever, and seat­ing is now closer to the ac­tion, with fans hav­ing many more sources of distractio­n, like smart­phones, as they watch. Last sea­son, for the first time, all ma­jor league sta­di­ums agreed to ex­tend pro­tec­tive net­ting to the far end of each dugout.

Even so, many foul balls can still reach the stands at speeds ex­ceed­ing 100 mph and cause in­jury or death.

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