DETROIT — Bats, pieces of bats and baseball go flying into the stands during every game at every stadium across the country. Occasionally a fan gets injured. There's a risk. But for those sitting in those lower seats it's a risk that Major League Baseball can easily decrease. MLB can discuss the topic all it wants, but until action is taken then fans will be at a high risk for injury. Hopefully it doesn't take someone dying for MLB to put up additional netting to protect fans.
In Detroit on Friday night during the eighth inning a female fan was struck on the right side of the face. She was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital and kept overnight for observation. The Detroit Tigers were informed that the fan was released from the hospital early on Saturday morning, and the organization has reached out to the lady to check on her condition. Because of HIPAA laws the hospital is unable to release any information regarding the patient. It's at the discretion of the patient to disclose any information — to include test results and the extent of a person's injuries.
The ball that Anthony Gose hit for a foul ball and struck the fan left the pitcher's hand at 96 mph. Once hit, a ball picks up speed, and the baseball that hit the fan was a low line drive screamer. Sitting in the first row, the fan was surrounded by dozens of people. The distance from home plate to her seat is roughly 80 feet — maybe 85. She had no room or time to move or react. At the speed that ball was traveling, the fan had between 0.6 to 0.7 seconds to react.
"Even if you're paying attention you can't react that fast," Gose said on Saturday. "We can't react that fast in the dugout, and we're paying attention to the game. You're sitting there, and you can't react fast enough in the dugout. Guys are just (barely) getting out of the way. A fan who's never seen anything moving that fast at them in their life? No chance. Zero chance in this world, a fan sitting right there over our dugout could react — and we can't react that fast in the dugout."
The incident in the eighth wasn't the last one of the night at Comerica Park. In the ninth inning Adrian Beltre's bat was split in half on a 98 mph fastball by Neftali Feliz. Part of the bat flew into the stands — coincidentally in the same section — and a guy got injured. While he wasn't taken to the hospital, paramedics did take him to the First Aid station and treat him.
Foul balls are hit so hard that it's impossible for fans sitting that close to get out of the way in time — even if you are paying attention. Gose and J.D. Martinez both remarked that they knew it had hit someone by the sickening sound it made on impact.
Gose has hit foul balls before and seen other incidents happen that made him cringe, but this was different. Nick Castellanos had commented the night before that a buddy of his saw a toddler die during a minor league game because of the same thing happening.
"You could hear it," Gose said. "The ball had already hit her, and I could see the ball kinda bounce off, but I heard it. And that's how I knew. And then she was sitting there, and I thought 'OK maybe she's alright maybe it just kinda (grazed) her,' but you knew by the sound of it. They put her on the ground, and I was like 'Oh God.'"
"Yeah cause she was talking first and asking," J.D. Martinez remarked immediately after Gose, whose locker is next to the center fielder's. "She kept asking, I remember seeing her she was like 'Am I bleeding, am I bleeding?' (People were) like no let me see this and that — OUT. She was talking first, and then she went out."
The fan, suddenly no longer conscious, had to be laid down flat on the ground while paramedics attended to her. Eventually EMS personnel got a neck brace on her and onto a stretcher before taking her to a First Aid station and then the hospital. At the time the paramedics took the fan to the ER, she was alert and responsive.
Unfortunately, that's an ordeal that a Boston Red Sox fan can relate to all too well. Tonya Carpenter was at the game with her son on June 5 and got hit in the head by a broken bat. The bloody incident left the fan fighting for her life for days. She wasn't released from the hospital until five days later on June 10.
The fan at Comerica Park was lucky by comparison. But it shouldn't have come to that in the first place. Nor should it have come to that at Fenway Park last month. If that wasn't enough, on Sunday at Wrigley Field, a 95 mph low line foul off the bat of Addison Russell hit a fan and the fan had to be hospitalized. This all after Russell's bat had gone flying into the stands earlier in the at-bat.
For Gose, Martinez, Castellanos, Justin Verlander and other Tigers players, putting protective netting up to the ends of both dugouts isn't an option.
Gose, who'd been in the middle of an at-bat, was shaken up. He's concerned that it might actually take someone dying for MLB to wake up and take preventative measures to better protect fans. On Friday night, that nearly happened. A day after the injury, Gose was still affected by it and no matter how many times it happens, fan injuries mess with players' heads.
"Yeah, cause you don't want that to happen to people," Gose remarked. "She didn't do anything wrong she just wants to enjoy a game. Now put up a net and people will still enjoy the game. You're not gonna lose that many people or that much money putting up a net. I guarantee it.
"I know that you buy at your own risk but eventually there's gonna be lawsuits. Eventually. I know you buy those tickets at your own risk, I realize it. But there's something that they can do to prevent it. So why not just do it?"
For a man who is typically of few words in an interview, Gose's discussion lasted over seven minutes in length. His and other lengthy interviews showed just how much he and the other players feel about the subject. For them this isn't a random, unfortunate incident. When a fan gets injured, it affects players just as much as when fellow players get injured by line drives or comebackers to a pitcher.
If a pitcher can't react in time to a ball he delivered to the strike zone at 96 mph at a distance of 60 feet, an immobile fan sitting at a distance not much further can't be expected to fair any better. MLB is still debating whether to put netting up, and lately not much progress has been made.
"I know it's something that is in heavy conversation of what to do," Tigers general manager Al Avila said on Saturday regarding MLB's ongoing discussion on whether to put netting up. "Do you put up netting, not put up netting? If you do put up netting how do you do it? It's something right now that is being looked at seriously. Quite frankly, the decision has to be made. Do we do it or not. Right now I believe it's up to each individual club."
MLB has not said whether this would be a decision reserved for offseason discussions among the teams. Currently, teams may put up netting as they see fit, but no organizations have stepped forward in an effort to bring about change. The MLB Players' Association has the ability to push for change if owners do not want to make any changes or decide as a collective not to put up additional protective measures.
After the incident in Boston, the Red Sox organization and MLB released statements citing that fan safety was of the utmost performance. Nothing changed, even after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at Fenway Park after the Boston incident. On July 13 Hagens Berman LLP and Hilliard Munoz and Gonzales LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of fans against MLB over safety concerns.
The Tigers are right in blasting MLB over its lack of proactive measures. Fans come to the ballpark for fun, not to be at risk for grave injury. True, it's a risk they take when coming to the ballpark, but organizations and MLB as a whole have the power to make it a safer experience for everyone. But nothing is being done. And the Tigers — and other players — are well within their rights to be outraged.