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The cost of extending the netting at every Major League Baseball stadium

It’s easy to prevent injuries at baseball stadiums, but what are you giving up?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know what “doing all right” means. But the father of a young girl who was hit by a line drive says that she’s doing all right, and I’m going to squeeze those words for the maximum possible amount of optimism. He also said that we should keep his daughter in our thoughts and that it was too early to know if she would need surgery, but I’m stuck on “doing all right” because it’s what I need to hear.

As always when something like this happens, the conversation turns to what could have been done to prevent it. There are opinions. There are strong opinions. These opinions are a window into your soul. There are people who are blaming the parents, which is an opinion that suggests they’ve never actually attended a baseball game. Regardless of who you are, your eyes aren’t glued to the action for every second, like it’s 1977 and you’re watching Star Wars the first time.

There are people who are quick to suggest that kids shouldn’t sit that close, which makes me wonder how much better I’d feel if it were a 26-year-old in the hospital instead.

(I would not feel any better.)

The anti-net faction is what we’re here to talk about, though. There were cries to extend the netting at ballparks. They were predictably met with cries to keep things the way they are. The latter are usually accompanied by terms like “bubble wrap” and, for some reason, “nanny state.”

It’s not a complicated issue. It’s basically a mathematical equation. Take the enjoyment millions of people get from watching a baseball game without a net and subtract from that the enjoyment they get from watching a baseball game with a net. Compare the difference to the enjoyment that a child can expect to receive over a lifetime. If x is greater than y, it’s a necessary sacrifice, sorry.

Except that’s ghoulish, reductive, and heartless. Using that equation might make some sense in some abstract philosophical way, but it’s akin to suggesting that it would be worth it to liquidate the net worth of someone worth $1 million if it meant that 100 million people got an extra two cents in their bank account. Hey, $2 million > $1 million; you do the math.

In this analogy, watching a baseball game in expensive seats without a net is an extra two cents your bank account. If you believe it’s an extra $1,000, you’re either being disingenuous, or you’ve never been lucky enough to sit in seats so good that they’re behind a net.

I feel comfortable in this assessment because when I first read about the young girl at Yankee Stadium, I was watching a baseball game from behind a protective net. I was in the press box at AT&T Park, watching with dozens of people who were paid to describe the baseball game from behind the protective net. It wasn’t until the next day, while writing this article, that I asked myself, “Say, when was the last time I watched a game from behind a protective net?” Why, it was yesterday, you fool. I just didn’t notice.

Another way to put it:

Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

That was 10 years ago, and I’ve written about being at that game. I’ve talked to several people about being there. I’ve bragged about being there, and I’ve bragged about the seats I lucked into. I’m bragging right now. But this is the first time that I realized that I watched the moment from behind a protective net. I don’t feel as if my memories were cheapened. Because they weren’t. I didn’t notice.

It’s the future, and companies are pretty good at making nets you don’t notice, everyone.

The only argument against netting extending toward the dugout is that it’s the slightest of inconveniences, and you’re not used to it. It’s different, and it protects people at the cost of the tiniest slivers of your potential enjoyment, which you aren’t willing to give up, especially if it means changing something.

If that’s your argument, reexamine your life. Really take a long look into your soul and examine how you value living, breathing human beings you’ve never met. Because you’ve never met them, because you’ve never bounced that girl on your knee, they are worth less to you than the tiniest sense of familiarity and comfort on the rare occasions you’re lucky enough to get seats that good.

If that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. There are millions of people just like you. And it’s my hope that future generations will phase people like you the hell out like a vestigial tail. I want to think we’re heading in that direction, even though I know it will take a long, long time.

The reason I was at the game on Wednesday was to get a sneak preview at a new way to attend a baseball game and look at something that isn’t the field. Claire McNear wrote this before the 2016 season:

And most fans now carry a smartphone in their back pockets, one that teams are only too happy to encourage them to fix their eyes on during games: to take pictures and post to social media, to cue up announcers and stats on the MLB app, to use the Wi-Fi that many stadiums boast about providing.

The era of smartphones changes the calculus a little bit, insofar as people are more likely to get hurt now. But the morality of the netting was in place long before the risk of injury increased. It’s really not a big deal to watch a baseball game behind a protective net. I know this because when I do it, I don’t realize I’m doing it.

“Ugh, how can Marlins Man watch the World Series from behind all that netting?”

- No one ever

Extend the nets to the end of the dugouts. The backlash would last five seconds. Baseball would be enjoyed just as much. Injuries would be prevented. Lives would be saved. Any argument to the contrary is unconscionably selfish.