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Nightengale: Time for Fans to Demand MLB Protect them in Stands

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New York Yankees third base coach Joe Espada reacts after a young girl was hit by a line drive during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, Sept.20, 2017, at Yankee Stadium in New York. Photo: AP / Bill Kostroun

It’s time, people.

It’s time for you, the fans, to speak out.

Sure, blame the New York Yankees for a 2-year-old girl’s hospitalization, her face and head bloodied by a vicious foul ball that left grown men in tears, fearing for her life.

If you must, blame Major League Baseball for merely recommending, and not requiring, that teams have protective netting that extends beyond every dugout.

But blame your peers, too, the ones who pay top dollar for the finest seats in these largely taxpayer-funded palaces.

They’re the ones who keep telling baseball owners that you don’t want expanded netting, resisting the Major League Baseball Players’ Association’s efforts to not only keep fans safe, but the players from a tragedy that could haunt them the rest of their lives.

“If I hurt somebody, even though I can’t control it, I would feel terrible,” Boston Red Sox outfielder Chris Young told USA TODAY Sports n 2016. “I would feel awful.

“You’re just trying to play a game. The last thing you want to do is hurt somebody. It’s not something you want on your conscience.’’

It’s why Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier dropped to one knee and prayed after his foul ball struck the girl seated in the sixth row of the lower left-field stands at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

It was at least the fourth incident of a fan being hit by a foul ball or bat at Yankee Stadium this season.

“I still have a knot in my stomach,” Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier told reporters. “I never look. For some reason I did. Right in the face. Little kid.’’

The Yankees revealed that the girl, who was attending the game with her grandparents, was in satisfactory condition at the hospital. She remained hospitalized Thursday afternoon.

She could have easily been killed.

Major League Baseball suggested to every team last year that they extend the netting at least 70 feet to the inner edge of each dugout. Ten teams – the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals – took the mandate even further, and extended the netting to the ends of each dugout.

It was a start.

But it’s not good enough.

This is where you come in.

When the clubs were ordered to expand their netting, they reached out to their fans, primarily their season-ticket holders, asking their opinion on whether they want the netting to extend even further than required.

The answer was a resounding no.

“We had fans upset,’’ Yankees COO Lonn Trost told the New York Times this summer, “that we’re even considering it.’’

The fans complained in the surveys, saying they’re not paying $300 for a lower ticket to watch a game through a screen. They want a completely unimpeded view. They told the teams that they realize the inherent danger, but they’re willing to take the risk.

It’s time to drop the machismo.

Call your team and voice your opinion that you’re now standing up for safety. Send emails. Leave voicemails. Complain to your ushers. Make your voice heard loud and clear.

And if you don’t feel your team is listening to you, hurt them back where it hurts the most.

Smack in their bank account.

Don’t renew your season tickets this winter. Stop coming to games, unless a change is made.

Do that, and you’ll see just how quickly your team responds.

No more excuses. No more alibis. No more gruesome incidents that will ultimately lead to tragedy.

We never should have waited until 2008 for Major League Baseball to mandate that every base coach on the field wear batting helmets, but it took a line drive on July 22, 2007 that struck Colorado Rockies minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh in the neck while standing in the first-base coach’s box.

He was pronounced dead an hour later.

The NHL used to have its own debate about protective netting, too.

That ended the evening of March 16, 2002.

Brittanie Cecil, a 16-year-old girl, was struck by a puck watching the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

She died.

The league immediately mandated netting at the ends of every arena.

It’s good that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Thursday that MLB will “redouble our efforts” in working with clubs “on this issue.”

Yet, that still makes it clear the ultimate power lies with individual franchises.

In that case, if you’re going to complain about seeing though a net, you may want to contact Tonya Carpenter 44, who was struck in the head by the barrel of a broken bat in 2015 at Fenway Park. She underwent brain surgery to stay alive. Stephanie Wapenski, was hit in the forehead five days later at Fenway Park by a foul ball. She needed 40 stitches.

Ask them what they think about protective netting?

“I don’t care about the damn view of a fan, it’s all about safety,” Dozier said. “We’ve been trying to get these teams to put nets up. We’ve got to do something about it.

“No exceptions.’’

Please, before it’s too late.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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