Fan hit by flying bat at Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game raises baseball safety question

Cloey Heckendorn won’t forget that Mother’s Day baseball game.

A few innings into a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes’ minor-league contest, the 27-year-old Chino Hills resident glanced down at her phone to text her mom about dinner plans.

Seconds later, a bat from Los Angeles Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner — playing for the Quakes as he came back from an injury — slipped from his hands, flew into the crowd behind the third-base dugout and struck Heckendorn in the head.

Blood dripped from a cut in her hair as Heckendorn’s 7-year-old nephew watched. Paramedics rushed her to a hospital, where she got 10 staples.

Riley Piorkowski, a 9-year-old Hesperia resident, hopes to catch a foul ball Wednesday, May 23, like her sister. The Quakes fan is on the fence about netting along left field beyond the dugout at LoanMart Field. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Though rare, the incident again highlights the issue of fan safety in baseball, which sends speeding foul balls — and sometimes bats — into the seats.

In September, a young girl sitting near the third-base dugout was hit in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Months after the incident, which hospitalized her, Major League Baseball announced that its 30 teams would be extending protective netting.

Typically, it was strung from the inner edge of the third-base dugout, behind home plate and to the beginning of the first-base dugout. Now, netting covers the entire area behind home plate and both dugouts.

Though minor-league teams aren’t required to follow the majors’ recent changes in netting, the Quakes and several other Southern California teams meet, and sometimes exceed, the recommendations set forth by Minor League Baseball.

Jeff Lantz, senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball, declined to comment on whether the minor leagues would update its netting recommendation to what’s now used in the major leagues.

Since 2015, Minor League Baseball has recommended that its teams follow what are now the old MLB guidelines on the topic, Lantz said. Those guidelines recommended netting or screens to protect fans in field-level seats between the end of both dugouts closest to home plate and within 70 feet of the catcher.

For years at LoanMart Field, home of the Quakes, the team has used netting that goes past each dugout all the way to the end of the seating in the outfield, said Grant Riddle, vice president and general manager.

“With our current setup being well beyond the recommendations, we don’t have immediate plans to make any changes,” Riddle said.

The Lake Elsinore Storm have protective netting at The Diamond stadium going past the edge of the dugouts heading into the outfield, General Manager Raj Narayanan said.

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Netting at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, home of the Inland Empire 66ers, complies with the Minor League recommendations, Assistant General Manager Alex Groh said. The Lancaster Jethawks’ netting extends to the outer edge of the dugouts, toward the outfield.

The move for more netting has been a topic of conversation for years.

After the New York City accident, the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners said they would extend nets by the beginning of the 2018 season. Then, in February, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced all MLB teams would expand their netting.

For Heckendorn, the incident almost didn’t happen.

She went to the ballpark after learning her niece wanted to see Turner — one of the Dodgers’ star players — take the field locally.

As Turner’s bat approached, Heckendorn’s brother yelled out her name.

Heckendorn said she put up her hand as a shield. But it and her brother’s glove weren’t enough to stop the knob of Turner’s bat from striking her about an inch above her forehead.

“No one had anything to catch a bat,” she said by phone Wednesday, May 23.

Heckendorn said she looked at the ground and saw drops of blood.

“I had felt so nauseated that I didn’t even want to get up and try to walk,” she said.

After an on-site medical technician and stadium employees rushed to help her, Heckendorn rode in an ambulance to San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, where she received 10 staples.

The Quakes reached out to Heckendorn’s family afterward, Riddle said.

Turner signed a bat and gave it to Heckendorn and her family, Riddle and Dodgers spokesman Jon Chapper said. Riddle added that Heckendorn’s family is welcome to free tickets to another Quakes game.

But Heckendorn said her family felt like the team could have done more than offer an autographed bat after what she experienced.

Heckendorn, who didn’t know the total cost of her medical care, plans to talk to an attorney to see if there’s grounds to sue.

“I don’t want a bunch of money — just the medical bills paid for,” she said.