By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
The Yankees are knocking balls over the outfield fences at an astounding and highly entertaining rate. But it’s the ones that don’t fly out in fair territory that should concern their loyal followers.
This has been such an entertaining season that it would be a downright shame if someone in one of those expensive field level seats along the foul lines wound up in the hospital because they took an Aaron Judge liner in the teeth. Yet, as has been seen around the league in recent years, the incidence of spectator injuries has risen.
Kids and adults have both been carted out of their seats in varying states of consciousness because of such mishaps. Numerous lawsuits have caused the powers of Major League Baseball to encourage their clubs to extend the protective netting found behind all backstops to the end of the dugouts, a suggestion recently taken a step further in New York by Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal, who called on the city to mandate netting from backstop to foul pole in both ballparks.
Still, what seems like such a simple, cheap, common-sense measure to keep fans’ heads intact has yet to be implemented. Neither the Yanks nor Mets have netting beyond the home plate area at this point. In fact, only eight of the 30 teams have extended their netting beyond home plate.
And a lot of that pushback has come from fans, themselves, who believe a few threads of black nylon in front of them will take away from the total stadium experience.
They have a right to their opinion, of course. Those seats in both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field cost a lot of money, and fans who dish out that kind of bread should get as full a view of the proceedings as possible. But, really, they don’t care as much about the action as the chance at corralling a foul ball. It’s the reason so many thousands of corporate giants over baseball’s history have risked getting cokes and mustard splashed over $700 suits as they have pursued those $5 baseballs.
But times have changed. Many of those businessmen now sit in luxury boxes where, in total safety, they can indulge in the latest societal distraction, the smartphone. The problem is, the folks who populate the field level seats have the iPhone and Galaxy, too.
They are not so safe. In fact, those seats at just about any major or minor league stadium have become danger zones. More than 1,700 injuries were reported from pro parks on all levels.
It’s not unusual to see a bunch of fans with their heads stuck in the smartphones as the action rages on the field. It makes sense. In an age where people are getting hit by cars because they’re texting their buddies in the middle of the street, it’s not far-fetched that people in the line of fire at the ballpark would do the same thing.
That means, though, that they’re not paying attention to the game. Thus, the possibilities of taking a hot, foul line drive off the noggin increase exponentially.
Now take it a step further. The Yanks have arguably the most exciting young player in the majors in Judge. It seems that every fly ball he hits goes 400 feet or more, and even his groundouts are bullets.
He’s not a dead pull hitter. But still, his utter strength represents a major danger to anyone sitting down the line. He need only get in front of a changeup and send a cannon shot into the stands to create a potential tragedy.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. But why chance it — anywhere. With players getting stronger, pitchers throwing harder, and fans’ attention spans shortened by hand-sized technology, the chances of coming away from a game with a concussion or busted cheek bone have increased.
Hitters like Judge present scary enough propositions for pitchers. But that’s the fun of baseball. It would be a shame if an errant liner off his bat dampens any of the excitement he’s generated.
It’s time for all of baseball to get with the times.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino