Mark Madden: More MLB netting a good idea, but so is common sense | TribLIVE.com
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: More MLB netting a good idea, but so is common sense

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AP
The Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. wipes away tears after checking on a young child who was struck by his foul ball during the fourth inning against the Astros on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Houston.

Rory McIlroy drilled a spectator in the head with a tee shot in the PGA’s Memorial Tournament on Friday.

Perhaps golf should border the fairways with protective netting.

The subject of more protective netting became sadly relevant last Wednesday when a foul ball hit by the Chicago Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. struck a 4-year-old girl at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The girl was hospitalized.

By 2018, all MLB parks had extended their protective netting to the end of each dugout farthest from home plate. But the little girl in Houston sat in a section beyond the netting.

Now MLB seems likely to run the netting to the foul poles or something roughly equivalent.

But what happens when somebody gets hurt by a home run? Will all ticket-buyers be encased in bubble wrap upon entry?

A 79-year-old woman was killed by a foul ball at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium last year. In 2017, a 2-year-old girl suffered critical injuries when a foul ball hit her in the face at Yankee Stadium.

Prior to last season’s tragedy at Los Angeles, only two fans ever had been killed by balls entering the stands. But hundreds are hurt each year. The odd bat, broken or otherwise, also can invade the seating area.

The protective netting doesn’t ruin the view. It does take away some of baseball’s intimacy and reduces the possibility of catching a foul ball. (If you don’t think that’s a big deal, consider how many people in the stands have gloves.)

Hockey faced a similar crisis when a puck flew into the stands and killed a 13-year-old girl at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002.

The NHL put netting above the glass behind each net. Many fretted about the potential negative effect for spectators, but it was negligible. Now, it’s not even noticed. The netting is just part of the game.

But those attending baseball games (and all sporting events) have some responsibility, too.

A small child or elderly person never should be seated anywhere that isn’t shielded by protective netting. Because small children rarely attend games by themselves, it’s incumbent upon the parents to utilize common sense and maybe more beyond that applied to location.

Why do parents take infants or toddlers to sporting events? Those children are not at all cognitive of what’s going on. Here’s guessing they would rather be at home, away from the crowd, noise and lights. Parents can display their trophy baby at plenty of places that don’t have potentially lethal flying spheroids whizzing about.

If you’re an adult and can react or defend yourself from said flying spheroids, here’s more common sense: pay attention.

In 2015, a woman sitting directly behind home plate at PNC Park was struck in the back of the head by a foul ball. Play was in progress. She was going to her seat. She faced away from the field. The ball pushed back the protective netting and whacked her in the head.

The key phrase there is “faced away from the field,” followed closely by “play was in progress.”

The woman sued the Pirates and the company that installed the netting. The Pirates made a cash settlement. The netting company won.

But the woman doesn’t get injured, and her suit isn’t filed if she’s paying attention.

Everyone is on their smartphone 24/7, even when attending a sporting event that should provide a distraction from the distraction of the smartphone. It’s a way of pretending your life is more important than it is.

It’s a wonder more MLB attendees don’t have “Rawlings” tattooed on their foreheads.

To be fair, clunking a fan at PNC Park has that needle/haystack vibe going most games.

More netting will give the athletes more peace of mind. Almora was inconsolable in the wake of last Wednesday’s incident even though he was not remotely at fault.

So extend the netting. Get it over with. Nobody should have a problem with that. Safety first.

But insufficient netting wasn’t the sole cause of the terrible occurrence at Houston. Negligence played a part. A 4-year-girl sat in an area not protected by netting when safer options were available.

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