After a foul ball claimed eight of Jennifer Myers’ teeth at a 2015 TinCaps game, Parkview Field became one of the safest facilities in professional baseball by adding 90 feet of netting down each base line at a cost of $22,500.Kathy Faulkner has five good reasons to believe it wasn’t enough: the number of staples needed to close the bloody wound in her scalp after she was beaned by a foul ball while sitting just outside the “safe” zone Aug. 18.
“If they don’t do something (to improve spectator safety), I’ll rent a billboard,” said the 60-year-old bartender who was attending the game with her 32-year-old special-needs son, Jonathan, and two grandchildren when she was struck while bending down to collect trash at the request of one of Parkview’s roving clean-up workers. “They need to get something done to protect kids.”
Something like extending the netting from foul pole to foul pole, she suggests.Given what’s already been done to improve spectator safety and the virtual impossibility of eliminating all chance of injury at events in which a very hard ball travels very fast, is such a request likely, or even reasonable?
“That’s a good question,” said TinCaps President Mike Nutter, who added netting last year even though Parkview Field complied with professional baseball’s safety standards and won’t rule out the possibility of doing so again in the wake of what happened to Faulkner.
As I noted following Myers’ injury, about 1,750 people are injured at major-league baseball games every year. The Komets and other pro hockey teams added netting behind the goals after a 13-year-old girl was killed at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002, and baseball has been adding netting too.
But Nutter knows that even if netting were extended from the left-field foul pole, behind home plate to the right-field pole, injuries would still be possible. Should netting be installed atop the outfield walls, too, robbing fans of the chance to catch a home-run ball? And even that wouldn’t be foolproof. I sat behind the home-plate screen at a game this week, and even though I was protected from a direct hit, a pop-up went over the screen and landed a few feet away with enough force to be dangerous. People have been known to fall or climb over railings, too — sometimes with disastrous results. Should floor-to-ceiling cages be added to prevent that? Where does the legitimate quest for safety end, and the absurd begin?
When it comes to additional netting, however, an idea that might have seemed far-fetched is already a reality. Earlier this year, one of the TinCaps’ rivals, the Dayton Dragons, placed netting in front of its entire seating area from pole to pole and extended its height by five feet.
“As with any change that affects our fans, we did not make this decision lightly,” Dragons President Robert Murphy stated at the time. “Extensive research on netting technology, fan safety standards and industry best-practices all influenced our decision . . . It really comes down to safety, security and enjoyment.”
Obviously, baseball fans need to protect themselves by watching the ball, even if it means turning off their phones. They also need to understand they assume a degree of liability simply by attending a game — a point spelled out (in very fine print) on each TinCaps ticket. But teams must help, too, by minimizing potentially dangerous distractions, and Faulkner believes asking fans to help collect trash while the game is in progress qualifies.
Nutter, who called Faulkner following the injury that sent her to the emergency room, indicated he would review the team’s trash-collection practice.
There are no villains in this story. The TinCaps improved fan safety following Myers’ injury and will consider additional changes now. When Faulkner was taken to the hospital, the team cared for her son and grandchildren until her daughter came to get them. The team’s insurance will pay $1,000 of Faulkner’s medical bills, which won’t cover everything but will help. Faulkner, meanwhile, has channeled her pain into an effort to improve public awareness and safety. And no doubt she’ll remember to keep her eye on the ball.
Nutter sent her a letter offering four free tickets should she choose to do so.
“I probably will go back,” she said. “But not until they do something. The net needs to be extended.”
I suspect that, sooner or later, all of professional baseball will follow Dayton’s lead and do just that. Nutter’s already shown he’s not the sort to wait.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.