Baseball is called America’s favorite pastime for a reason. According to ESPN, more than 72 million people attended major league baseball games in 2017 — and that doesn’t even account for all the minor league games held at stadiums around the country.
But what these millions of people don’t plan on, while they are eating their cracker jacks and root-root-rooting for the home team, is getting seriously injured while watching what is considered to be a rather docile sport. And fan injuries aren’t a rare occurrence either. In August, I saw a woman escorted out of the game with a ice pack on her face after getting hit with a foul ball. A toddler was hit in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium last year. And not long ago, mom Dina Simpson lost her eyesight when she was hit by a foul ball at a minor league game.
“I was in my seat just a few rows behind the kids when I heard my husband yell, ‘Heads up!’ The next thing I know, I was hit smack in the eye by a line drive,” she said. “The ball was traveling over 100 mph. I had less than a second to react, virtually no time. I was rushed to the trauma unit and did not come home for three days. The injury has left me blind in my right eye. This will be permanent.”
Although stadiums and teams have taken steps to make ballparks safer, some think they haven’t gone far enough.
“While all 30 MLB and many minor league ballparks did extend the netting to the far ends of the dugouts, this is not far enough,” Simpson told Scary Mommy. “I was past the dugouts as were many others who were severely injured, and the netting must extend farther down the baselines.”
Unfortunately, if a fan is injured, there typically isn’t any legal recourse. According to Sports Illustrated, the so-called “baseball rule” imposes a limited duty on teams to protect fans from foul ball injuries. While application of the “baseball rule” varies, courts typically hold that teams must only provide protective netting to those fans seating in the “zone of dangers.” Fans sitting outside of their area — including fans seated along the first and third base line — are considered to have assumed the risk possible foul ball injuries.
But just because the teams don’t have to extend the netting, does that mean that they shouldn’t? Not according to Simpson.
“MLB is very aware that it is nearly impossible to fend off a line drive traveling at great speed, yet they leave it on the fans to protect themselves,” she said. “These injuries are preventable and they know it.”
In fact, some teams and ballparks are going further than necessary to minimize the risks of fan injuries. “One club in Ohio, the Dayton Dragons, has netting that protects all of the fans in the ballpark, which is to be commended,” she said. “A few teams in the major leagues have gone further down the baselines past the dugouts, the rest will most likely not follow suit until they are once again shamed into it. It is unbelievable that this simple, cost-effective solution has not been mandated across MLB and MiLB; after all, they say fan safety is their number one priority.”
Additionally, ballparks need to take into account the special needs of some fans. For instance, both MLB and MiLB organizations recently announced that they are joining the initiative to make ballparks sensory inclusive. If a fan has sensory challenges, they can have access to a sensory bag that includes a weighted lap pad, fidget tools and noise-canceling headphones.
While Simpson thinks that, when it’s done right, sensory inclusive ballparks are a great thing, she worries that the initiative doesn’t take necessary precautions to prevent injuries. “Here is the problem: if using fidget tools, your focus will not be on the game; if you are wearing noise-canceling headphones, your ability to pay full attention decreases. If a line drive is coming at your child or family member, how exactly will they hear you warning them?”
She said she was disappointed when she called her local MLB ballpark and was told she was free to sit wherever she choose while utilizing a sensory bag. She recommends that fans with special needs be offered seating behind the protective netting or way up high on an upper level.
While Simpson no longer attends baseball games, she’s committed to advocating for changes to ballparks so that others aren’t injured as well.
“I could not imagine sitting in a ballpark after the physical and emotional trauma I have suffered,” she said. “I also choose not to support businesses that treat their customers horribly. This baseball organization [where I was injured] has never once reached out to me. For me, from the moment it happened, my life has been completely turned upside down. For them, from the moment it happened, it never happened.”
For those who do attend baseball games, Simpson offers these words of warning: “Never assume that because there is no protective netting past the dugouts that it must be safe from line drives — it is just as dangerous. If you do not feel safe where you are sitting, you can ask to be moved. Until these organizations truly put fan safety first, it will be up to you to protect yourself and your family.”