Baseball fan safety begins with fan cooperation

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

During Saturday night’s game between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, a fan sitting in the upper deck of Turner Field was leaning over and, according to eyewitness reports, was heckling at Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez while he was in the on-deck circle. The fan fell over the edge and struck a railing on the lower level. Medical personnel responded immediately to attend to the 60-year old male, who eventually passed away later that evening. Strangely enough, the game continued on despite the gruesome scene.

Saturday night’s fan incident in Atlanta was the latest of many this season in Major League Baseball. Including the one last night at Turner Field, there have been eight reported fan injuries at baseball games this season. One of which happened in our very own backyard, when a woman sitting behind the Detroit Tigers dugout in an August 21st game vs. the Texas Rangers was struck with a line drive foul ball off the bat of Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose.

Tigers players were immediately calling for MLB to strongly push for better fan safety measures the next day. Among them was starting pitcher Justin Verlander, who thinks that the league needs to do something “before it is too late.”

I love baseball just as much as the next person. I take advantage of every opportunity I have to go see a baseball game, whether it is the Tigers or another team. I also know that when I go, no matter where I sit, that there is a chance of a foul ball or even a bat flying into the stands. If I’m not mistaken, every baseball team and stadium warns fans in some way, shape, or form about the possibility of balls, bats, and other objects entering the stands. At Comerica Park, the PA announcer Bobb Vergiels will make a pregame announcement about said warning and an additional graphic is posted on the left field scoreboard to only further portray the warnings.

Some stadiums have excerpts on the back of the ticket stubs that warn fans of the potential on-field objects used by players entering the crowd. Others have plaques posted up in sections where such activity is more likely than others. Most people probably know of these warnings, but most probably don’t know or don’t think about it enough.

I mention this part because earlier this week, a story came out that a Massachusetts woman is suing Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry. The woman claimed she suffered injuries during a June 2014 game after a foul ball struck her while she was in an exclusive suite area at Fenway Park known as the “EMC Club”. The section is located in the upper deck behind home plate. However, the woman also claimed that protective glass had been removed from the seating area due to renovations at the time, which only adds another wrinkle to her claim.

I cannot speak for this woman and her injuries suffered and hope for a speedy and full recovery. But I cannot support her action to sue. First, she is still a paying customer of the Red Sox and voluntarily agrees to assume full risk and danger possibilities. Second, if the owner and team allows fans to sit in sections of the stadium that are undergoing renovations, I think that would only prompt fans to pay even more attention throughout the game, if her claim of protective glass being removed is accurate.

Which brings me to my next point. Fans go to baseball games so they can watch the game. Men and women of all ages go to enjoy the experience of witnessing a long home run, or a pitching gem. Some more than others have the luxury and opportunity of paying for seats much closer to the action. With that luxury and opportunity comes greater responsibility and awareness and is not meant to be taken for granted.

Having been to countless baseball games myself, I am certainly aware of the numerous potential diversions that can take the eyes of fans away from the game. Among them can be looking at your cell phone, vendors offering food or drinks, or even things happening around the ballpark that are not associated with the game. I personally watch the game as it is going on at all times, and will attend to those secondary experiences when there is a stoppage of play. I think more fans need to consider doing this.

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The topic of fan safety has jumped to the top of the list for baseball executives for the remainder of the season and going into next season. The one big option that is often mentioned in additional netting. Some recommend expanding it to the ends of the dugouts, others have even gone as far as entertaining the idea of expanding the nets foul pole to foul pole. It has produced reactions all across the country.

While some fans wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of the idea, they certainly understand why Major League Baseball would do that. Those who oppose it have various reasons. Some say that it would diminish their visibility of the game, having to look through a net. To those people, ask those who sit behind home plate. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’d say they’re pretty content with their seats and having that net in front of them.

There are party of people who think the netting will ruin some level of interaction between fans and players. They say a net would restrict their chances of getting souvenirs from players, or take value away from receiving things such as photographs or autographs with players. I can definitely see this as a valid argument, and I’d like to think players would also not want that taken away from the game as well. At the same time, there are more and more players, like Justin Verlander, that are more concerned with the safety of their fans. They value and appreciate their attendance, and have expressed pain and concern seeing live balls strike fans in the stands. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be so vocal about it.

Adding or expanding the netting in baseball parks is certainly an option, especially with the amount of injuries that have occurred. However, there are steps that can be taken before taking that drastic measure. If fans out there cannot wait to take a picture, post to social media, or buy some peanuts or Cracker Jacks, well….if something tragic were to happen, I think they would care if they never got back. How about waiting until a stoppage of play, maybe in between at-bats? Sounds crazy, I know, people really need to tweet out that they’re behind the Tigers dugout #EatEmUpTigers. But if it can’t wait, then don’t put yourself in a position where an injury can happen. It is no different than texting and driving.

Unfortunately for the wrong reasons, MLB is going to take initiative in the offseason and revamp their fan safety protocol. Expanded netting is a viable option, though I think there is one thing they can do before that. Because we cannot assume people will pay more attention when sitting in areas prone for foul ball activity, one possible idea is taking something done at hockey arenas. While the game is in action, fans are not permitted or encouraged to leave their seats or enter their section until a stoppage of play. At baseball stadiums, ushers should not allow people to enter the section to their seats until an at-bat and follow-up play is officially completed and time is called. Also, vendors should only walk up and down the aisles in between innings. This reduces the number of distractions.

So fans, remember, when MLB goes into the offseason and potentially does something that majority of you will not approve of, myself included because I think isn’t quite necessary yet, just think that it can be avoided in the first place as long you give your full cooperation when attending a baseball game.

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