One of the charms of baseball has long been that balls in play that reach the fans in the stands become instant souvenirs — hockey is the only other major sport that openly allows their spectators to take home something that was actively used in the game. However, in both cases, that something also doubles as a deadly projectile that the bystanders need to be protected from.
On Wednesday night, a foul ball by Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora, Jr. struck a young fan down the leftfield line that resulted in a hospital visit for the child. Shaken with grief over the incident, Almora was caught on camera breaking into tears and remained noticeably distraught in the clubhouse after the game.
The event sparked an intense debate on social media whether or not Major League Baseball should change their netting requirements in their parks to protect their fans. With legitimate concerns on both sides of the argument, proponents and opponents alike have been vociferous in their stances.
The Tigers have had several incidents along these lines in recent years as well, leading to the installation of partial netting extending down to the dugouts. Just last September, a fan at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago was struck in the face by a hard foul from Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario. You may remember another scary incident back in 2015 that led to criticism from several Tigers’ players, including Justin Verlander, that the league wasn’t doing enough to protect spectators.
Therein lies our question of the day.
Should MLB extend the netting requirements in its parks?
On one side of the coin, the stadiums in the Korean Baseball Organization are all fully netted, a precedent that some have pointed out as successfully providing protection while maintaining fan enjoyment. Some of the more aggressive proponents allude to the paramount importance of fan safety over all else, and claim selfishness by those who disagree.
All Korean baseball stadiums have extended nettings. It's never been a subject of complaint. Keeps the fans safe while they still have tons of fun. I don't see why such measures shouldn't be instated in the $10 billion that is the MLB. #KBO pic.twitter.com/jlcGOJ20I8— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) May 30, 2019
The other side of the argument takes a more conservative approach, claiming that warning signs and other caveats should be sufficient, and that spectators should be accountable for themselves and their children. If you are going to be seated in a “danger zone” you should be keeping your eyes on the field and on your loved ones.
Personally, I think the answer is somewhere in between. There is something special about going to the ballpark with a glove in hopes of catching a souvenir. Netting to prevent line drives from reaching the seats still allows for the occasional pop-up to find its way into a happy fan’s paws. But leaving the game without permanent injury or death is inarguably more important. So while the netting can be extended without tarnishing the spectator’s ability to follow the game, it does prevent direct interactions with the events on the field, like the famous Prince Fielder incident.
Of course, balls that reach the stands can cause all sorts of havoc that are not related to injuries, often ruining a beverage or a meal, but this has long been an issue that fans have come to accept. But with what seems to be an increase in significant injuries at major league ballparks and a strong desire to eliminate this danger, it appears that changes are probably coming.