NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: TinCaps set standard for protecting fans from foul balls at ballpark

More fans have been injured by foul balls at professional baseball games. Should teams do more to make their ballparks safer for those of us who watch them play?

Some probably should. A Bloomberg analysis says about 1,750 fans are hurt each year by balls hit into the stands at Major League Baseball games.

On May 29, a foul ball off the bat of Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. struck a 4-year-old girl in Houston. Another child was hit by a foul ball during a minor league game in Indianapolis Saturday night. Both victims were hospitalized.

Fortunately for Fort Wayne TinCaps fans, the local Class A Midwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres has been ahead of the game in regard to ballpark safety.

“Fan safety is our chief concern at Parkview Field,” TinCaps President Mike Nutter told News-Sentinel.com in an email this week. “We care about our fans and want them to be and feel extremely safe attending games and events in this award-winning ballpark.”

Parkview Field already had 115 feet of safety netting in the ballpark when a foul ball struck a woman, knocking out eight of her teeth at a 2015 TinCaps game. Following that incident, Nutter says the TinCaps added 98 additional feet on both the first- and third-base lines – 196 total additional feet of expanded netting prior to the 2016 season.

“We have always been a leader in this regard,” Nutter told us. “We were the first or second team to announce and increase netting at the time we did it for the 2016 season.”

A young boy was hit in the face by a foul ball during a Triple-A Indianapolis Indians’ game as he was sitting along the first-base line at Victory Field Saturday. The Indians extended their safety netting at the park in 2017, but only to the end of the dugout.

The young girl who was struck last week by Chicago’s Almora Jr. was sitting beyond the far end of the third-base dugout at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park, apparently beyond the netting. That incident stirred an uproar of feelings from across the country, especially from those who have been affected by these injuries.

“For fans like me who have been injured and for their families, it’s like a reliving of the trauma – another kid in the ballpark carried out on a stretcher,” Andy Zlotnick told the Indianapolis Star following the Almora foul ball. Zlotnick, who has become an advocate for extending protective netting, suffered serious face and eye injuries from a foul ball at Yankee Stadium nearly eight years ago. He was sitting beyond the park’s protective netting in the right field seats.

Last year, a 79-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers fan passed away four days after being hit in the head by a ball.

Such incidents spurred Major League Baseball to order all 30 teams to extend netting to the far end of the dugout last year.

Following last week’s incident in Houston, Almora Jr. said he thinks the league should do whatever possible to make sure no child will ever have happen to them what happened to the girl struck by his foul ball.

We applaud Nutter and the TinCaps organization for being a leader on this issue.

“We have coverage through the ends of each dugout, and all of the chair-back seats are behind netting other than three sections,” Nutter said.

The length of the Parkview Field netting is 311 feet. The height is 30 feet up from the playing surface. That covers the vast majority of the seating bowl.

Baseball fans assume some liability for protecting themselves when attending a game – something pointed out on each TinCaps ticket.

Under tort law, the Baseball Rule “holds that a baseball team or, at amateur levels, its sponsoring organization, cannot be held liable for injuries suffered by a spectator struck by a foul ball batted into the stands, under most circumstances, as long as the team has offered some protected seating in the areas where foul balls are most likely to cause injuries.”

The TinCaps efforts to put fan safety first while working to ensure the quality of the fan experience and stadium atmosphere is to be commended.