Sox Say Safety First

Around the house, I tend to refer to this site as “Jays blog” since obviously the content usually is largely about those ever-loving, (recently) ever-losing Blue Jays. Today though I give a tip of the cap to the other great Great Lakes city. Kudos to the Chicago White Sox.

This week the Sox became the first team in MLB to install netting from foul pole to foul pole, at their Guaranteed Rate Park. Which brings up the question when did it stop being “new” Comiskey Park but I digress. The White Sox should be praised for going the extra mile – or extra 200 feet or so as it were. The netting will surround the baselines and outfield walls from home to the foul poles and be a minimum of 30 feet high,in an attempt to prevent foul balls (or broken bats for that matter) flying into the stands and hitting fans. In 2016, Rob Manfred told teams to extend the netting, to about the first base and third bases, but despite that, fans keep getting hit and injured all too routinely.

It’s really good because now the fans are going to be more safe,” Sox rookie sensation Eloy Jimenez says. Jimenez probably feels it more than some; a foul ball he hit hit and injured a fan recently. It was the latest in a seemingly long list of such events dating back to the terrible death of an older lady last fall after she was struck in the head by a ball in L.A. Earlier this year, a two year old girl was hit hard in the head at Minute Maid Park. She suffered a fractured skull and has been having seizures since, her parents report.

Jimenez’ teammate Evan Marshall agreed wholeheartedly. “It’s a shame it wasn’t done sooner…everybody is tired of seeing people being hit. It just sucks the air right out of the game.” No need to look any further than Cubs’ outfielder Albert Almora, and his horrified reaction to hitting the foul that decked the little girl in Houston.

Most fans seemed happy about the safety precaution, although a few did gripe about the apparent diffusion of their view and the club’s infielder Tim Anderson said he didn’t like it since it would be more difficult to sign autographs. But, at least there’ll be fans there wanting autographs some might suggest.

Come on Rob Manfred. It’s time to tell the other 29 teams to follow suit (presently he says it’s up to individual clubs to decide since ball park dimensions differ,as if that would alter the need from city to city.) Let’s not wait for another dead fan to get going on this. Fans are people, who have friends, families, stories. It shouldn’t be hard to have empathy to want to ensure they are safe in the stands cheering on their teams. But if you somehow lack the ability to care, look at it as a business investment. The family of the two year old say they will be suing the Astros (even though they do appreciate how the team has reached out to them) and one expects they will win a large settlement.

What’s more, each time another fan is hit, it’s news. Seems like the Today Show spotlight another fan clutching their head and players standing around looking worried every week now; the Almora clip of the poor toddler and the Cubby in tears on the field ran on a near continuous loop on network news for days. That is not the type of publicity a sport already dealing with dropping attendance needs. Perception is reality in many ways. Sure, it’s true that even if one person gets hit by a foul ball in a crowd of 40 000, 39 999 go home safe and sound. The drive home is perhaps riskier. But the average Joe or Jane doesn’t see it that way. Witness the hysteria this summer after three people were bitten by sharks, none fatally, off North Carolina. Millions went swimming there this year and were fine, but after news reports showing people in hospital beds bleeding and sharks swimming near the coast, people reacted as if a dip in the ocean was akin to signing their own death warrant. More and more fans are beginning to have the same perception about a trip to the old ballgame.

Hockey has had plexiglass extending well above the boards for as long as anyone can remember to prevent errant pucks smacking fans in the head. They keep filling arenas and fans keep cheering. Whether it’s plexiglass or loose netting, time for baseball to do the same.

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