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Take me out to the Ball Game, not the Hospital

By: Maria Oldham

I am twenty-five years old and my father still makes sure that he sits next to me on whichever side is closer to home plate when we go to baseball games together. I asked him once why he insisted on sitting this way and he told me it was so he could protect me from any foul balls. This may seem a little over protective but maybe my father just really understands the risks associated with attending a professional baseball game.

It is estimated that roughly 1,750 fans are hurt each year due to batted balls at Major League stadiums.[1] Unfortunately, what my father might not realize is that it would be almost impossible to protect me, or even himself, from a foul ball. It has been demonstrated that a ball with an exit velocity of 95 mph — the approximate speed of a hard line drive — travels 75 feet, about the distance of fans sitting behind the dugout, in just over 6/10 of a second. [2]  For some reference, a blink of an eye is 1/3 of second.[3] A recent injury to a young girl at Yankee Stadium highlights the dangers that foul balls pose to spectators.[4]

The young girl was struck in the face by a 105-mph foul ball.[5] The story and video was quickly circulated, partly due to the reaction of the players. Todd Frazier, the batter, was visibly distraught and other players from the Yankees and Minnesota Twins kneeled in prayer.[6] Reaction around baseball was swift. Four teams lacking netting to the far-end of the dug out quickly announced plans to expand netting at their stadiums for 2018 and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, promised that Major League Baseball would redouble its efforts to expand the scope of netting in ballparks.[7] Why, after 1,750 injuries a year, are these teams so quick to change their mind on netting? I believe the answer is social media and bad publicity.

A brief history shows that the franchises have fought back against the implementation of netting along side the dugouts. In December 2015, the MLB recommended that teams extend the netting to the near-side of the dugout, the dugout side closest to home plate, in order to protect fans from foul balls or flying bats near home plate.[8] Nineteen teams extended their netting in compliance with the recommendation.[9] As of January 2017 only five teams had extended their netting to the far end of the dugout.[10] The MLB has yet to establish rules about netting.[11]

What else can be done to increase stadium safety? New laws need to be passed that aim to increase the use of netting. More players also need to speak out about adopting netting at stadiums. Athletes know best about the inherent danger in foul balls and should attempt to increase awareness. Additionally, there needs to be a change in the assumption of rights doctrine.[12] There needs to be a more modern way to deal with these injuries rather than shielding owners from liability. Today’s sporting events are more interactive and about the fan experience. Spectators may be distracted from game play by their cell phones, vendors, or watching the hype crew play games and toss shirts into the stands. Until the teams and the MLB decide to take action on this issue, my father will still attempt to protect me from foul balls.

 

[1] Catherine Cloutier, How Often are Baseball Spectators Injured During Game Play?, Boston Globe (June 9, 2015) https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/06/09/how-often-are-baseball-spectators-injured/bVBG1iYz8u0dy1DLGx0cmI/story.html.

[2] Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel: Season 22 Episode 4 (HBO television broadcast April 16, 2016).

[3] Id.

[4] Larry Neumeister, Girl Hit by Foul Ball at Yankees Game Get’s Game’s Attention, Associated Press (Sep. 22, 2017) http://news.findlaw.com/apnews/413f0b0e584f4da78ac6cc1a0ec41d5a.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Helene Elliot; It’s Time Now for Major League Teams to Expand Netting to Protect Fans as Much as Possible, L.A. Times (Sept. 21, 2017) http://www.latimes.com/sports/mlb/la-sp-baseball-fan-safety-elliott-20170921-story.html.

[8] Brent Schrotenboer, Stadium deaths: Are Major League Baseball facilities safe enough?, USA Today (May 26, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2017/05/26/major-league-baseball-stadium-deaths-falls/102146750/.

[9] Claire McNear, The New Era of Baseball’s Protective Nets, https://www.sbnation.com/a/mlb-preview-2016/nets.

[10] John Harper, Major League Baseball should make it easier for teams like the Phillies and mandate expanded protective netting, New York Daily News (Jan. 12, 2017) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mlb-easier-teams-mandate-expanded-netting-article-1.2943822.

[11] McNear, supra note 9.

[12] Brad Reid, Assumption of the Risk at the Ballpark, Huffkington Post (Aug. 27, 2014)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-reid/assumption-of-the-risk-at_b_5538071.html.