Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Keep Me Safe in the Crowd

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a huge advocate of extending netting or incorporating additional safety precautions around ballparks. Not that we often had great seats or were really close to the action when I was growing up, but my dad taught us to pay attention when we were at ballgames. We were always excited about the possibility of catching foul balls and would even move around as the crowd thinned out in order to get ourselves into a better spot.

My brother, sister, and I all played baseball growing up and were around the game enough to be acutely aware of the fact that baseballs coming out of a professional pitcher’s hand or off a hitter’s bat were lethal weapons. We also grew up in a time where the only true distraction you had at a game was keeping score. Even if cell phone had been a thing, my dad would have yelled at us had we tried messing with them during play.

Call it ignorance, stubbornness, or just plain stupidity, I just didn’t see the need for extra netting in MLB parks. I never wanted to see anyone get hurt, but I thought the netting was annoying for viewing the game and that people should pay attention when they’re lucky enough to have seats that put them in danger of injury via foul ball.

I once thought I knew how I felt about this safety netting topic, but, as Billy Joel sang in Allentown, something happened on the way to that place. And the place I’m now at is on the safe side of the netting.

While I can’t really pinpoint my change in mindset when it comes to this issue, I’m sure it began a few years ago when my daughter was born. You never really worry about a tragedy befalling you until it actually does. Likewise, you never really think about what it would mean to see your kid get hurt until you have a kid. Sure, most people have a soft spot for kids, but until you have your own, you don’t know what it feels like to want to do anything for them and protect them from everything that could do them harm in the world.

A couple years ago there was the kid who got hit with a foul ball at a Yankees game. Last year, it was a woman who was hit at a Red Sox game. Thanks to the internet and social media, these high profile and seemingly ubiquitous moments started to hit home with me and they started becoming very real.

I started thinking about what it would be like to take Sophie — my daughter, now almost 3 years old and nearing the point where I’d consider bringing her to a game — to the ballpark. Could I control her and pay attention to the game at all times? Would it be fair to her and fans around us if she got bored or distracted, or wanted to watch Bert (Mary Poppins) and Olaf (Frozen) rather than KB and Javy?

Most importantly to me and for the purposes of this article, Could I keep her safe?

It was a question I hadn’t really asked or answered before I had kids. Why would I? I didn’t realize how hard it would be to corral a toddler who has more energy than the Energizer bunny on methamphetamine. I couldn’t possibly understand how many false alarms and real alarms parents would go through when they heard the word, “potty.”

I came to the stunning conclusion that I’m not perfect and I couldn’t, in good conscience, say that I would be watching 100% of the time between Sophie and the game. I backed off my original stubbornness and realized that it didn’t matter if I ever had kids or not. People aren’t always paying attention, and it’s not just because they’re applying cute Snapchat filters. Maybe they’re just going for casual entertainment where they’re not expecting a projectile to come screaming their way at over 100 mph.

After last night’s game, Kris Bryant reiterated what so many players, writers, and fans have echoed the past few years: We need more protective netting in ballparks. Yes, even more than was added at the beginning of last year. Baseball is about competition and entertainment. No child (or adult, for that matter) should have to be afraid of getting hurt when they come to a game, and every kid should be able to walk out of the stadium with a smile on their face because they had (as Sophie would put it) “great fun.”

While it was endearing to see the raw emotion Albert Almora Jr. showed to the world during a moment that became bigger than a baseball game, he should never have to worry about hurting someone while trying to do his job. That little girl didn’t deserve to go to the hospital just because her parents brought her to a baseball game.

So I would like to ask MLB and its individual teams to put some more netting up. For the little girl who got hit Wednesday night and every other fan who goes to a game and is still in danger. For ballplayers who just want to do their job without hurting anyone. And for the reasons I changed my mind, Sophie and her little sister Naomi, who will one day join me in the stands for some peanuts and Cracker Jack.

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