They put up more nets, but injuries keep coming
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.