Always use protection: The MLB is not to blame for foul ball injuries

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As a Cubs fan, I met the Cubs-Astros series with a clenched jaw and grimace whenever I glanced at the schedule. While the high skill level of both teams and powerhouse players on each roster undoubtedly made for great baseball, my beloved Cubs had just come off a loss against the Cincinnati Reds (yeah, you read it right) and would see an even bigger challenge against the 2017 World Series champions, the Astros. The first two games went very much as expected — the Cubs put up a good fight but were ultimately no match for Houston’s arsenal. Not like I didn’t see the losses coming, but was it really necessary for the ‘Stros to score five runs in one inning during game one? Shouldn’t one or two have sufficed? Seems a tad excessive to me.

On May 29, however, Chicago finally got to fly the W after squeaking past Houston with two early homers that a quiet Astros team couldn’t match. But the Cubs’ win was hardly celebrated at all — in fact, all of Minute Maid Park remained hushed after the fourth inning of the game. Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. drilled a line drive right past the foul ball netting and struck a young fan, leaving the entire stadium shaken. Almora was immediately and visibly beside himself — the only thing to be heard echoing across the field for those reticent few minutes was his anguished cries. Consoled by manager Joe Maddon, other teammates and even a security guard while other players on the field took a knee, Almora broke down, and the young fan was rushed to the hospital.

Watching the scene unfold was nauseating, and my heart breaks for both Almora and the family of the injured child. After the incident, the MLB has been subject to an onslaught of punitive denunciation, particularly from those who have been subject to similar injuries as well as their families. Clamors for extending foul ball netting and providing more protection for fans were amplified by a recent CNN article that provided narratives that excoriated the league for failing to implement such safety measures despite the staggering 1,750 injuries caused by foul balls yearly.

But measures have been taken. In 2018, all 30 major league teams extended the foul ball netting past the dugout (many of them without being mandated by the organization), with several clubs extending it even farther — yet injuries still happen. Is this incident a product of the MLB’s alleged disregard for all human safety and happiness? No. Baseball, like nearly every other activity or life engagement, is one that has risks associated with it; accidents happen regardless of measures taken to prevent them. Are we really to blame Almora, who was doing nothing more than his job — that is, playing baseball — for inadvertently injuring a fan? Are we really to blame the family for wanting to enjoy a ballgame from seats with an up-close view? Are we to blame the MLB for not having the netting just an inch or two longer? Maybe we should blame the person who invented baseballs for making them so heavy and dangerous, or the person who invented the sport itself. Only then will all fans be protected from each and every ballpark danger — like those sharp peanut shells and that guy behind you’s beer that’s teetering dangerously close to spilling all over you.

People must be aware of the inherent risks they assume when they go to a ballgame, or drive on the highway, or do anything at all. Instead of wearing helmets in the bleachers or not going to games in fear of suffering a skull fracture, onlookers would be well advised to simply use the best safety device of all: common sense. Families with little kids shouldn’t bring them anywhere near foul ball territory; opting for upper deck tickets is a much safer bet, and whether it’s a 5-month-old or a 5-year-old child, the location of the seats is probably one of the last things they’re thinking about during the sensory-overload extravaganzas that are MLB games. Fans sitting in foul ball territory should know what that connotes, and fans sitting anywhere in the stadium have to remember what game they came to watch — one where the object is to crank small, hard objects as fast and far away as possible, sometimes into the very provinces that some spectators may be sitting in.

This is not to say that the league should be let off scot-free — paying medical bills for injured fans out of the kindness of its heart is probably the least the multibillion-dollar organization can do, and continuing to improve safety precautions should undoubtedly be a priority for a sport that is seeing bigger, stronger athletes hit and pitch baseballs at unprecedented speeds. But to claim that Major League Baseball is at fault for not taking proper preventative measures to ensure fans’ safety is rash and unsubstantiated.

I am all for Major League Baseball being safer for fans, for netting being extended, for seats having protective awnings and for compensation being provided when accidents and injuries do happen. But I am not a proponent of blaming athletes or the organization itself for something that ultimately comes down to an individual’s decision. It is up to the fan to decide whether or not the risk of sitting in marked foul ball territory is worth it, or if some second-tier seats and a bird’s eye view could be just as cool (and far less dangerous).

Emily Ohman is an assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @emilyohman34.