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Net gain: White Sox, Nationals lead the way in helping protect their fans

Chicago White Sox

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

For as long as baseball has been played, fans have been warned of the inherent danger of watching a game. Without warning, a swing of the bat can send a line drive careening into the stands, endangering those in its flight path. Over the years, many have been hit and injured, including many young children.

Last August at Dodgers Stadium, Linda Goldbloom, 79, was struck in the head and killed by a foul ball in the top of the ninth inning. The medical examiner’s report stated she died from “acute intracranial hemmorrage” and a “history of blunt force trauma.”

According to ESPN, Goldbloom was just the third fan reported to have died as the result of being hit by a batted ball in the history of the game. One was at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1943 and the other also at Dodger Stadium in 1970.

Even before Goldbloom’s death, MLB had ordered protecting netting extending to the ends of both dugouts in their ballparks. It’s there for our protection, to keep us as safe as humanly possible. But there still have been instances over the last few years when it’s proven inadequate. And that has led to the call to extend the netting from foul pole to foul pole.

On Monday, the Chicago White Sox became the first team in the Majors to comply with the directive. Netting spanned the area from foul pole to foul pole at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The White Sox had reason to take action. A fan at one of their games last month was struck by an errant ball and sent to the hospital. But it was just one many incidents in MLB parks over the years that have left fans on edge and the players who hit the balls feeling bereft.

Just last Sunday in Cleveland, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor’s 92 mph line drive just beyond the Kansas City Royals dugout struck a 3-year-old boy and sent him to the hospital in the sixth inning. Lindor looked over and could see a man carrying the child up the aisle seeking help.

“He’s in the hospital right now,” Lindor told after the game. “I came over immediately and tried to find out where he was. The paramedics were checking him.

“Once I got out of the game, they let me know that he’s doing OK. He’s doing good. He’s in the hospital getting checked out. He’s talking and answering questions and his eyes look good. That’s a good sign. Hopefully, every test they run on him comes back good.

“You don’t want that to happen to anybody, especially a little kid.”

On May 30, a line drive by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr., hit a fan at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. He was immediately impacted by the accident and was extremely emotional about it after the game.

“As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her,” said Almora. “God willing, I’ll be able to have a relationship with this little girl for the rest of my life. But just prayers right now.”

Despite the constant danger present, MLB did not ask any of their teams to even extend the safety netting to the dugouts until last season following an incident when then-Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier struck a toddler in the face with a 105 mph line drive.

“Providing baseball fans with a variety of seating options when they come to the ballpark, including seats behind protective netting, is important,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement at that time. “Major League Clubs are constantly evaluating the coverage and design of their ballpark netting and I am pleased that they are providing fans an increased inventory of protected seats.”

Protective Netting

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On Monday, the White Sox seemed genuinely pleased their team had voluntarily taken action.

“It’s a great idea,” White Sox pitcher Evan Marshall told the Associated Press. “It’s a shame it wasn’t done sooner and just almost a standard across baseball, I think. Finally the players are speaking out because everybody is tired of seeing people get hit.

“It just sucks the air right out of the game and we see it happen. It’s hard to move on to the next pitch or do whatever because somebody’s going to the emergency room,” he said.

The new netting in Chicago is comprehensive, 30 feet high above the dugouts and a maximum height of 45 feet down the lines. In case you are wondering, fair balls hit off the netting will be treated exactly as it they had bounced off fence.

“It’s really good because now the fans are going to be more safe,” Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox added. “Especially because line drive foul balls, most of the time they’re super hard. I think it’s going to be safe for the fans.”

The Washington Nationals have also agreed to extend the netting. It will be in place Tuesday when they host the Colorado Rockies.

It’s important to note extending the netting beyond the dugouts is not mandatory. MLB has given its teams the freedom to make the decision on their own since the layout of every park presents its own challenges.

Some teams have expressed reservations, fearing the extra netting with impair some fans ability to see the game and interact with the players before games.

“I think every organization will continue to do everything they can to allow the fans to get the experience in terms of the human connection,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “You can still see people through the netting, it’s not like a wall, a blocked off wall.

“I’m sure fans will find a way to still get items through to get signed autographs and things of that nature. You’ll still be able to have physical contact if you truly want to touch somebody, it’s still possible.”