Bernstein: Netting Protects Players Emotionally Too

Protective netting needs extended in MLB ballparks for the well-being of all.

Dan Bernstein
May 30, 2019 - 1:56 pm

(670 The Score) All of our thoughts are with the young girl injured by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr.'s foul-ball line drive in Houston on Wednesday, but we have enough empathy to also feel for the player who was just doing his job.

The television view of Almora's reaction from the center-field camera was frightening, watching his screams of terror turn to wracking sobs as he took to a knee and was consoled by teammates and coaches. Our minds immediately began to imagine the enormity of the trauma based only on how we saw others behave upon witnessing it, and then we watched Almora's tearful exchange with a security guard apparently updating him on the girl's condition, uncertain if his response stemmed from guilt or relief.

The latest reports indicate optimism for her, but this may finally be the catalyst for protective netting from foul pole to foul pole to be mandated by MLB, even after an expansion of it to the far side of dugouts after 2017, a season in which a young girl was hospitalized after being hit in the face by a 105-mph foul liner at Yankee Stadium and a six-year-old girl was struck in the head at Wrigley Field by a bat thrown into the stands by Addison Russell. Both victims recovered.​ 

Last season, a 79-year-old woman was killed by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium despite the improved coverage.

We need to ensure it all stops, in the interests of all involved. Even a league run as ham-fistedly as the NHL knew enough to do so after a 13-year-old girl was killed by a deflected slap shot in Columbus in 2002, and there are no complaints about views of the action.

Do it for the physical safety of the spectators and the emotional protection of the players.

"Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium," Almora said.

Cubs teammate Kris Bryant agreed, telling ESPN he'd too like it "around the whole field." 

"You can see through these, and the ball's coming hard," Bryant said. "The speed of the game is quick. I think any safety measure we can take to make sure the fans are safe, we should do it."

Almora was a complete wreck after the incident, and while he played the remainder of the game, it would have been completely understandable had he opted otherwise. Mets third baseman Todd Frazier reacted similarly to his 2017 scare and also urged the team to expand the nets farther.

The benefit for fans is obvious, that for players a bit less so but also real and meaningful.

"It makes you realize, obviously we don't want fans to get hit with balls, but we also don't want -- the players take the brunt of that," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told the Mully and Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Thursday. "When you see a player hit a pitcher with a line drive, he feels horrible and has tremendous guilt. I think that's multiplied exponentially when it's a little kid in the crowd."​

Hoyer made clear that he would welcome a directive from the league to expand the nets, and it's more unfair than ever to ask parents to protect their children from deadly projectiles. 

"Especially with smartphones now, it's so difficult," Hoyer said. "You're not paying attention all the time. The balls are going faster and harder than ever. There's just no way to react. Our fielders can barely react at times with a hard line drive. To expect a parent or a kid to react to a ball that flies into the stands, it's not realistic.​ I think that shouldn't be part of going to a game. ​The idea of getting hurt should not be at all be a part of the equation.​"

Nor should a player having to live with the idea that any plate appearance is potentially an inherent and immediate danger to anyone within a certain proximity, let alone the brutal aftermath when it actually occurs. It's time to take even this relatively remote possibility of physical and psychological harm out of it, entirely.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.