DETROIT -- At what point does fan safety become important enough for Major League Baseball to take additional protective measures? After Friday night's incident at Comerica Park, that's the question of the hour. And it's an issue that several Detroit Tigers players want MLB to take seriously -- including Justin Verlander and Nick Castellanos.
In the eighth inning, Anthony Gose stepped to the plate with the Tigers trailing 2-0. On the second pitch of the inning he hit a foul ball that was sent screaming back behind the home dugout. The ball struck a female fan in the right side of the head near the temple and stopped play. Gose was visibly shaken by what'd happened and the entire stadium had an eery hush about it.
Emergency responders rushed to attend to the fan, and it took at least seven minutes for EMS personnel to get the fan onto a stretcher and her neck put into a brace. She was taken to the First Aid station and then transported to Detroit Receiving Hospital. The fan was conscious and alert, but she'll undergo further evaluation and the team will be checking on the status of the fan on Saturday. It was a frightening event and one that shouldn't have happened.
"I think that if you extend (the nets) a little bit -- and they don't have to be super high," Verlander pointedly remarked after the 2-0 loss. "We have enough stats in this game, I think you can break down numbers and say 'OK this is where you're really in danger of the hard hit line drive, the low line drive that just misses the dugout.' I think much higher than that it's usually popped up or you're not really in danger. But those low liners, they catch us off guard in the dugout and we're Major League Baseball players. We still get hit. So, everybody else can be in serious danger."
Fans know that when they come to a ball game that objects may fly into the stands and they should pay attention. Advisories are posted and announced throughout the stadium to ensure that fans know what to expect. Still, accidents happen. Not every foul ball or sawed off bat can be avoided. Fans can't always dodge a 95 mph low foul ball shot straight back. Not planted in a seat and stuck between several other fans.
In Castellanos' opinion, MLB should install nets to the end of the dugouts not just at the major league level, but in the minors, as well. The addition of the nets may take away some of the experience for fans who pay a more premium price for a closer view. But at what cost? Players believe that cost is currently far too high and fan safety is of greater importance.
For his part, Castellanos did not hold back his feelings on how urgently the issue should be addressed. MLB has not made much, if any, headway in coming to a resolution over whether additional netting should be put up. While unfortunate, the hope is that MLB will take this matter seriously and stop dragging its feet.
"If today doesn't get nets up, what else is it going to take?" Castellanos stated emphatically. "I mean, look what happened in Boston to the lady that got hit with, I think Lawrie's broken bat. What else has to happen for nets to go up? ... I remember one of my teammates in Triple-A, Kevin Russo said he was playing a Triple-A game in Pawtucket, and a toddler was hit in the head and killed."
Installing more netting around the infield foul lines may seem lengthy and involved. For the most part fans do pay attention. But that can't be asked of every single fan at every single moment of every single game. Fans attend games for the fun of it, not necessarily to break down the minutia of what happens from pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat.
There's always a risk when attending a sporting event. But in this case MLB has the ability to decrease that risk by adding something as simple as a net. Teams can't guarantee the safety of everyone. But adding nets is one way to significantly decrease that risk. And that's the point of contention Tigers players currently have.
"I do think that fan safety is a growing concern," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "That's not really my call but I think it's something that should be looked at."