Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Foul Balls, Netting, And Distractions

For months, players, fans, and Major League Baseball have been discussing the options in regards to fan safety at the ballpark. Most notably, the expansion of netting from behind home plate has become a topic of interest. Now Major League Baseball has issued their new fan safety recommendations.

In the release, the following recommendations are issued:
  • Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate.
  • Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner's Officer recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area. 
  • The Commissioner's Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.
Ok, now we have the basis for our discussion. First and foremost, this is something I can get behind as long as the changes end at the current state. Per the recommendations above, no netting would extend the length of the dugout, and therefore, would leave those seats still unobstructed. Therein lies my biggest concern for going overboard with netting and safety measures.

In recent years, we have seen a handful of fans be struck with batted balls or bats flying into the stands. Handful is a reflective term noting that out of the millions of people that experience baseball games in person each season, less than a full percent have ever been seriously injured. That's not to make light of the situation, but instead to provide some perspective. More fans have died in recent memory, from falling from areas in stadiums with less than secure railings or overhangs. We aren't talking about some sort of epidemic.

Looking at the problem that faces Major League Baseball as it pertains to fan safety, we find a situation in which the consumer is asking for protection from themselves. Regardless of how many fans have been hurt, each situation is a direct outcome of a buying decision. As has always been the case, each ticket comes with a disclaimer full highlighting the inherent risks of being present at a baseball game. This is also voiced at each game as a reminder prior to first pitch over the stadium public address system.

Generally, the thought process behind buying seats close to the dugout or down the lines is one of increased fan interaction. Whether it be for a close up field view, the opportunity for autographs, hoping to interact with a player, or snagging a ball, those reasons would seem to influence the purchasing decision. Knowing full well the tickets carry a premium price for those reasons, the expected experience should be what each fan has come to understand.

While it's not fair to categorize every incident as the outcome of a fan or group not paying attention, or simply not reacting, it's also not fair to do the opposite. In an age where cell phones, conversations, food, beer, and otherwise have all taken away from paying attention to the action, responsibility should not be shifted. Again, when buying your ticket, you know what and where you are paying for.

With the latest safety recommendations, baseball has gone above and beyond to protect fans from themselves. The seats in question have been unprotected for years. While the game has gotten bigger, faster, and stronger, it has not done so exponentially so quickly that the sport hasn't handled it. Instead of looking at the unfortunate instances as the outliers they have come to be, baseball has taken a step to improve fan safety while not diluting the product being purchased.

At some point, as a whole, we need to take more ownership for our own safety and actions. Unfortunate circumstances take place, and while not all things are preventable, there's also a point in which prevention measures overstep sensibility as well. For now, this is a good move for baseball. As the call for netting past the dugouts or even from foul pole to foul pole comes to fruition, sensibility needs to win out.

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