By Bob Nightengale |
The scene was heartbreaking – a 4-year-old girl was hit in the head by a foul ball Wednesday night in Houston. Making it even more emotional was seeing Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora, a 25-year-old father of two boys, fall to his knees and weep at the mere sight.
No baseball player wants to endure the pain that Almora experienced — watching a foul ball off his bat injure a child.
Players have told USA TODAY Sports in the past, and reiterated again Thursday, that they don’t permit their young children to sit in the stands at their own games in any area not protected by a net.
“When (2-year-old son) Xavier comes to games, he watches from inside,’’ Boston Red Sox veteran starter David Price told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “Baseballs are coming off bats harder than ever.
“Just like always, it takes something like this for MLB to take action. It’s sad.’’
Before the 2018 season, Major League Baseball expanded protective netting to the far ends of both dugouts for the first time, with commissioner Rob Manfred thanking the owners for agreeing to the initiatives.
Now, just a year later, after the latest terrifying incident, we’ve learned it’s not enough.
Just ask Jana Goldbloom Brody, whose 79-year-old mother died last August after being hit in the head four days earlier at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s unconscionable that fans are still getting hurt by hard-hit foul balls and MLB has not increased the netting requirements,’’ Brody told ESPN producer Willie Weinbaum, “even after a foul ball caused a brain hemorrhage and my mom’s death.
“We see not only the fans, but the players are traumatized by the horror and damage …this sad injury … may be a message from my mom, Linda, to speak out once again and keep demanding more ballpark safety.’’
If you ask Almora and his teammates like Kris Bryant, they’d like protective netting that not only extends from the foul poles, but one that covers the entire ballpark, making sure it’s impossible for anyone to ever be hit again.
“It’s a real awful moment, for a player to go through something like that,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters after the game. “Albert is an emotional young man, with children, so that made it even more real to him.’’
MLB, in response, said Thursday: “The events at last night’s game were extremely upsetting. We send our best wishes to the child and family involved. Clubs have significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years. With last night’s event in mind, we will continue our efforts on this important issue.’’
The truth is that nothing is going to change. Not now. Not unless there’s another tragedy, perhaps even death.
A fatality forced MLB in 2008 to mandate that every base coach on the field wear batting helmets. It came six months after Colorado Rockies minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh was struck in the neck while standing in the first-base coach’s box.
He was dead an hour later.
The NHL never had protective netting until after a tragedy in 2002.
That’s when Brittanie Cecil, a 16-year-old, was struck by a puck watching the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. She died, and the NHL immediately mandated netting at the ends of every arena.
For MLB to make changes, it’s up to the fans, because every team in baseball has the right to make unilateral changes to expand protective netting at their own ballparks. The problem is that the fans are the ones who keep telling their own teams they don’t want expanded netting.
They are the ones who complained vociferously two years ago that they didn’t want the protective netting expanded to the dugouts.
And, once again, according to two MLB owners contacted Thursday by USA TODAY Sports, they are getting calls and emails from fans saying they don’t want any further net expansion, despite Wednesday’s horrific incident. Those owners requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
They want to be close to the action with absolutely nothing in front of them. They want to be able to potentially catch foul balls. Season-ticket holders are telling their clubs they want a completely unimpeded view. Sure, they realize the inherent danger, but they’re willing to take the risk.
They are blaming inattentiveness for any fan’s misfortune.
We’ve learned to accept metal detectors at sporting events, concerts and nightclubs, and it hasn’t stopped us from attending events. Now is the time for fans to realize that everyone’s safety is essential.
Do you want to go home talking about the game, or do you want to be praying for a child’s well-being? Enough is enough.
Light up the switchboard at your baseball team’s offices. Send those emails. Complain to stadium ushers. Let your voice be heard, loud and clear. And if nothing changes, take action and really punish baseball.
Stop going to games.
Watch attendance plummet, profits diminish, then see how quickly your team responds. How many more gruesome incidents are needed, or even deaths, to wake everyone up?
“God willing,’’ Almora said after the game, “I’ll be able to have a relationship with this little girl for the rest of my life. But just prayers right now, that’s all I really can control.’’
The players have spoken. A precious child is injured. The rest is up to you.