The most common response when I brought up the subject was “we were just talking about that.”
That, in this case, was the screaming foul ball that sent a 4-year-old girl to the hospital after striking her in the head during a Cubs-Astros game last Wednesday.
The incident made national headlines, but it also sparked a debate: Should MLB stadiums provide protective netting from foul pole to foul pole in order to prevent something like this from happening again?
Two years ago, after a foul ball broke several bones in a 1-year-old’s face, all 30 MLB parks expanded netting to the far end of each dugout.
But as Wednesday night proved, that wasn’t enough to eliminate the threat of a serious injury.
In response, an array of journalists (and multiple Cubs players) have called for more extensive netting.
Let’s see what the fans think.
This is a fan issue, after all.
They want to feel safe, yes, but they don’t necessarily want to be looking through a net that would preclude them from catching a foul ball — regardless of how hot it’s coming in.
So Friday night, I went to T-Mobile Park and asked: Would you want foul pole to foul pole netting?
I started with Bob Danson and Peter Lechner, who were sitting behind a net along the first-base line.
They were talking about the 4-year-old before I approached them, and completely empathized with her situation.
They get why fans would want to feel safer.
They understand why people would want more netting.
They’re just not among them.
“I had those seats (the unprotected seats along the foul line) the other day, and if I was looking behind a screen, those seats aren’t as nice anymore,” Danson said. “Great vantage point, but the idea of getting a foul ball is gone, and that’s part of the excitement.”
I moved a couple of seats over and spoke with Karen and Tyler Bryson and their friend Brad Muirbook.
Karen said she could see parks expanding the nets a little farther, but added that “when you’re down there, you know you’re in foul ball territory,” Tyler agreed.
Added Muirbook: “The irony is that most people sit down there because they want to get a foul ball.”
Do they, though?
My next stop was the Schuh family, who were sitting in the first row on the field level, just beyond the nets on the first-base side.
This was about as high-risk as a fan could get at T-Mobile.
Do you want more netting? I asked.
“Yes,” Cathy Schuh said. “I wouldn’t have to worry about the ball.”
Schuh’s husband, John, said he has seen people who had to be carried out of the park after being struck by a line drive.
Makes sense given that a Bloomberg report estimated that 1,750 people are hurt by a foul ball or broken bat in MLB stadiums each year.
What constitutes “hurt” is unknown, but those balls zoom down that line.
As Schuh said of his son, Nathan: “He’s a high school catcher, and if a ball comes this way, he’s ducking.”
But that isn’t how Michael Fuller feels at all.
On Friday, he and his 7-year-old son, Jackson, were sitting in the front row on the third-base line with gloves on, hoping a ball came their way.
“If you pay attention, you don’t need the nets,” Fuller said. “I think it ruins the experience if you have the nets.”
Jeff and Carrie Hornberger wouldn’t go so far as “ruins,” but they don’t want net expansion, either.
And they told me this after Carrie expressed her devastation over the 4-year-old and asked me if I had an update (early reports said her condition was positive).
But they picked their foul-line seats for a reason.
And it’s where they’d sit if they brought any of their three kids.
“It’s super unfortunate, but I don’t know that you need to change everything,” Jeff said.
It was pretty much 50/50 for me throughout the night.
Sitting in the third row with his three children — all under 6 years old — Ron Tomyn said he supports net expansion now but never would have before he became a father.
Sarah Graham said that “as a fan” she wouldn’t want more netting, but that “as a mom” she would.
So what are my thoughts now?
Tough call, but I think I’d vote yes on net extension.
The odds of fans in those seats getting injured by a line drive foul ball are probably better than them actually catching it.
And there would still be a chance for them to snag balls that fly over the nets.
As for the idea that this would obstruct a fan’s view?
Nobody complains about the arena-wide netting at hockey games, nor do fans complain behind nets at baseball games.
In the words of Ryan Prado, who was sitting behind home plate on Friday: “I don’t feel like I’m having a diminished experience because of the net.”
But I do understand why some fans would protest.
And I don’t think those fans should be dismissed.
We should always strive to correct problems, but should be wary of overcorrection, too.
What happened to that 4-year-old girl was horrifying.
What happens to more than 1,700 MLB fans a year is eye opening.
I think teams should extend the nets to better protect their fans, but I don’t think they’re monsters if they don’t.