I had a coach in college who used to be an absolute stud at the NCAA Division III level. He was one of the best hitters on one of the best teams in the nation and went on to have a short career in the Independent League.
The reason his career was short-lived wasn’t entirely performance-based. In his rookie season he hit a screaming fall ball into the stands that struck a mother of two children in the temple and killed her. After that he struggled to simply pick up a bat, as would anyone with any object that had caused the death of another human at their hand.
I wouldn’t be putting this story on the internet if it wasn’t already out there. If you do some digging you can find it, but I’m not going to link to it out of respect to this coach who I haven’t spoken to in quite some time. I remember him describing the scenario, not being able to put into words how this tragic event changed his life. He had no control over the situation, yet as accidental as it may have been, he still took a life.
At one point during our season, I threw at a kid intentionally because I was getting lit up. There was no real malice behind it, but the pitch did end up slipping a bit and hitting the batter higher than I meant to. He wasn’t hurt, but when I got back to the dugout this coach who had experienced tragedy was not very fond of my actions once he found out they were intentional.
I was acting like a hardass, telling my teammates about how I felt like I had to hit the batter because I was sucking at my job. When the coach heard this he tore me a new one. What if that pitch slipped a little higher? What if instead of turning away, he was expecting a curveball and wasn’t able to react? At that moment I remembered him struggling to describe the feeling of taking someone’s life unintentionally. And here I was, intentionally throwing a hard object at person as hard as I could because I got my feelings hurt and I needed to be a hardo.
I’m not going to dive into intentionally hitting batters. The MLB can’t control batters be hit by pitchers, but it can control how safe a fan feels when they’re sitting 50 yards away from the action. I can’t stand fans who come to the ballpark and sit on their phones the whole time or simply don’t pay attention to every pitch like I do. But this is the modern baseball fan. They only glance at the field every third or fourth pitch, and the rest of the time is spent socializing with their friends or using their phones.
Call this the pussification of America if you want, but it’s not that. This isn’t the same as an NFL player voluntarily strapping on a plastic hat and slamming it into other humans wearing similar plastic hats. This is about limiting the risk of people getting hurt while enjoying some entertainment. There are already numerous outside factors that make doing anything in public unsafe, so why not limit the dangers people face if you can?
Protective netting will suck. There’s no reason to think otherwise. It will partially obstruct the view of people who are paying a lot of money to sit as close as possible. Recently, a fan was struck by a foul ball at Wrigley Field where the extent of the netting is most certainly going to be reviewed in the offseason. That fan is now suing his favorite team along with the MLB. The damage from the foul ball may cause him to lose his eye, but that’s nothing compared to what that mother of two lost at a minor league game several years ago.
Hopefully it doesn’t take another horrific scenario like that to get this right.