If baseball cares about its fans, it will mandate expanded stadium netting
Few sports, if any, are intertwined with history like baseball. Generation after generation, fans of America’s pastime enjoy not only debating the state of the game today, but arguing which era was baseball’s “golden age” and which stars of differing eras truly were the best of all time.
Baseball is so in tune with its history that, honestly, we’re surprised those in positions of influence at the sport’s highest level have yet to heed warning from the past when it comes to fan safety.
We’ve heard it plenty of times before. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
And until Major League Baseball demands change — specifically mandating protective netting that covers all of foul territory for each of its 30 stadiums — that’s exactly what will happen.
As teams construct new ballparks, they often try to put the seating area as close to fair territory as possible. After all, the closer to the action some seats are, the more fans will be willing to pay to sit there, or at least that’s the thinking.
But the closer those fans — who are not professional athletes and are often distracted by conversations, concessions or cellphones — sit to the action, the less time they have to try to protect themselves from a scorching line drive hit in their direction or a bat that has slipped from the grip of a hitter swinging for the fences and is hurtling toward the crowd at a high rate of speed.
Just this season alone, we’ve seen the same harrowing scene play out time and again — a ball is blistered into the seats, where it strikes a young fan and causes serious injury (or worse). The player who hit the ball, who did nothing wrong, is then overcome with guilt for being the cause of injury to a small child.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
It shouldn’t be this way.
For a fraction of the salary of that mop-up relief pitcher or that sparingly-used backup catcher, each team can expand the netting all the way down each stadium’s side walls and protect those fans who are most vulnerable to injury. So, why won’t they just do it?
Baseball has been dealing with a bit of an existential crisis lately trying to figure out how to convince young people to embrace a game that is played at a much slower pace than football, basketball or hockey. Showing these young people you covet that your sport is OK with a risk of significant injury to them simply by entering the ballpark isn’t going to help with that message.
Even though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is plenty to like about baseball. Fans being preventably maimed by line drives isn’t one of them.
The sooner MLB realizes that and mandates extended netting, the better — for baseball and those of us who love it.