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Screaming foul balls, errant hockey pucks and Luis Salazar

Mar 10, 2011, 6:48 AM EDT

Luis Salazar

We learn this morning that Luis Salazar seems to have avoided brain damage as a result of the wicked foul ball that tore into the dugout yesterday. He has multiple facial fractures, but he’s recovering in an Orlando hospital.

That incident reminded me that I wasn’t wrong to feel really vulnerable when I was at spring training games last week. Most of the time I was in the press box, but I’d spend at least part of every game down low along the lines, just beyond the screen so that I could get some good pictures. Whenever I had my face down to mess with my phone or my camera or to take a note or whatever, I had a strong compulsion to look up because I was painfully aware of how fast a ball could find its way to my head.

The incident also reminded me of Brittanie Cecil. She was the 13 year-old girl who was killed by an errant puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002.  I certainly had her in my mind last night when, hours after the Salazar incident, my brother and I went to see the Jackets play the St. Louis Blues. As always, I noted the netting on each end of the ice that wasn’t a standard part of hockey arenas before Cecil’s death and realized that heavy, fast-moving projectiles and fans can be a dangerous combination.

I’m not alone in thinking about that. Indeed, it prompted a reader — Rob B. — to write in yesterday putting voice to what a lot of probably feel:

When I read the posts about Josh Beckett and the San Diego coach being hit last week, I could not help but think about Mike Coolbaugh.  I also thought about 4 year old Luke Holko, who was attending a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game in 2009, when he was hit in the head by a foul ball.  Additionally, I thought about Tyler Colvin who was impaled by a broken bat this past September and Denard Spann’s mother who was hit by his foul ball last March.

Last year, I read the book about Mike Coolbaugh, “Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America” by S.L. Price.  Of the many interesting items in that story, one that stood out was the idea that the players all seemed to be aware of the inherent dangers of being hit by a ball or bat.  From what I remember, there were many people interviewed who mentioned that they kept a watch out for family members at the ballpark and made sure that they kept themselves behing the protective netting.

Ever since I read that book, I have attempted to make sure that my family and I are seated in areas where our safety is increased.  With regards to the more affordable Minor League, we try to sit behind the netting.  When we go to the more expensive Major League Stadiums, we tend to sit in areas which place us farther from the action.

When we went to games at Durham, Brooklyn, and Frederick, all great stadiums where most of the fans are incredibly close to the action, we saw many balls hit hard into the stands and most of the attendees did not have gloves to attempt to protect themselves.  We also saw a number of broken and intact bats fly into the stands.

When we went to the Futures At Fenway games last summer, we were seated close to the field, but not behing the screen.  Luckily, I brought my glove with me, since I had to catch a line drive foul that was heading for my younger son.

It is shocking to me that Major and Minor League Baseball have not put more safety features in place to protect the players and the fans.  I understand that it may take away from some esthetic part of the game, but the alternative is incredibly costly.  I just hope that MLB and MiLB do something, quickly, before there is another Mike Coolbaugh or another Luis Salazar.

You can’t make anything 100% safe. Accidents and incidents happen. There is no such thing as total protection, and I don’t think that should be the overriding goal of those who operate ballparks and arenas.

But nor should anyone dismiss the idea of added safety, and perhaps the Salazar incident should prompt us to think about what, if anything, can be done that can provide a reasonable measure of protection to those so close to the action.

In the meantime, if you find yourself low and close at the ballpark, for God’s sake, pay attention.

  1. grafe2 - Mar 10, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    I’m going to see the Braves in Seattle in June and have seats behind the visiting dugout and this whole thing has made me a bit nervous, not to mention how broken bats like flying over to the dugouts as well. I’m glad to hear Salazar is alright though, I immediately thought of Coolbaugh as well and I’m glad he’s fine, for his sake and McCann’s.

  2. iftheshoefits2 - Mar 10, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    I was at the Braves/Marlins game on Monday, and it was my 4 year old son’s 1st baseball game. We sat behind the 3rd base dugout, and I spent the first 2 innings freaking out, trying to make sure he was paying attention. Alas, the boy is like his mother, and too much stimuli meant I had to move him behind the netting behind home plate.

    Its amazing how quickly the balls can get on you, where a quick dip into the popcorn becomes a risk taking event. Thoughts & prayers to Salazar & his family. We all love when our teams win, but things like this make you realize how much we all just love the game, and how quickly life can change.

  3. Jonny 5 - Mar 10, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    I understand Rob B. here, And while at first I agreed with him, I think there is only so much that should be done. I don’t want nets surrounding the field. Statistically, I’d bet more people are injured walking to their seats, or by other people, or even trip over the curb out front. What must be done to end these horrible things that are more dangerous?? See my point? One thing I’d like to see though is a better bat or bat accessory to keep the “death from above” bats intact.

    One night I was at a Phillies game. I was right behind the opposition dugout. And I noticed the people right in front of me had a newborn baby with them. I thought about how stupid that was. I had to ask them how old the baby was, so I did the whole, “aww how cute……, how old is she?” “6 weeks” ohhhhh…….” I found myself worrying about someone elses baby the rest of the game, worrying about a foul ball.

  4. flalaw - Mar 10, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    Basically the solution is to pay attention while you’re at the game.

    Statistically, you’re more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident on the way to or from the game than to be injured at the ballpark.

    • tomemos - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:17 AM

      Kind of a thoughtless thing to say, especially when we’re talking about 4-year-olds getting hit. Small children aren’t in control of their attention and don’t have the power to catch or get out of the way of anything. And no one can pay attention at every moment.

      Plus, you mention auto accidents…well, we actually have instituted lots and lots of safety features on the roads and in the car, and as a result auto safety has dramatically increased over the years. Good thing we didn’t just say, “The solution is to drive more carefully.”

      I mean, I don’t know if I’m in favor of more safety features at the ballpark, but comments like yours don’t help your cause.

  5. BC - Mar 10, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    Well, that’s the “before” picture on Salazar. I sure as heck don’t want to see the “after” picture based on all the accounts I’ve read. Hopefully they can reconstruct whatever they need to and the guy will be back to 100%.

  6. Steve A - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    I was at an Arizona Fall League game in 2008 and got hit by a broken bat. It was the 9th inning of the game, and my fiancee and I were sitting in the second row behind the 3rd base dugout just past the screen. Chris Johnson was batting and he broke his bat on a swing. I think it was a foul ball, but I really couldn’t say because I stopped worrying about the game at this point. All I saw was the main part of the bat helicoptering toward us. Instinctually, I dove right and she dove left, leaving a space between us. I ended up getting hit in the elbow with the barrel of the bat, and the bat fell in the row behind us. Luckily, the bat mostly went where we weren’t, and the broken end didn’t hit us. I was fine, and I even got to keep both the barrel part of the bat, which he signed, and the handle.

    I agree with most of what’s being said. I love sitting close without the screen in front of me. However, you have to be aware when you’re that close, though. I also remember a time when we sat in the second row behind the Tigers dugout in Detroit. There were two men in the front row, one of which had his two kids with him. He made sure to put himself between the children and home plate so that he could protect them.

  7. IdahoMariner - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    when are they going to start using the bat sleeves?! That would take care of a fair amount, right there.

    I have my 3 year old wear sunglasses (bat shards) and a kids batting helmet, and I sit between her and the plate, and I have my glove (she has hers, too, but I don’t really want to test her super-amazing baseball skills that way)…and I still can’t relax too much if we are along the 1st or third base line. Also, getting a 3 year old to KEEP a helmet on for the whole game is impossible (she loves it because it’s just like the guys on the field, but still) …so I am starting to really prefer the outfield bleachers. Still have to pay attention, but you have a little time to track the ball (which is losing some velocity at that distance), and no bats.

    • IdahoMariner - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:07 PM

      as you can probably tell, I just have never been the same since I saw a story a couple of years ago on the kid that got hit in the head by a foul ball at Fenway, and Jim Rice jumped out of the dugout, picked him up and brought him to the team physician — with his skull fracture, they figured if he hadn’t been brought into the clubhouse to the physician and then right out of the ball park the way the team can get out (ie, way faster than a parent could have gotten accomplished up in the stands), the kid wouldn’t have made it. Now he’s thirty-something and a dad himself.

      I was pretty cautious before that, having played a lot of baseball and other sports, but the image of that kid unconscious in Rice’s arms just shook me.

      I want her to love baseball, not fear it, so — left field bleachers for us for now.

  8. marshmallowsnake - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    Last year (or two years ago…cannot remember), at an Angles’ spring game, in Tempe, I saw a parent with their kid on the grass at the left field corner…and when a foul ball came at them, the parent (an idiot male) reached for the foul ball…MISSED IT, and the kid got hit by the ball…and started bawling. Parent of the Year right there….moron! Protect the kid! The ball is worth $10…your kid is priceless!

  9. IdahoMariner - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    From the “stuff I didn’t know about one of my favorite players (and people) on my team” department:

    Franklin Gutierrez has left [Mariners] camp to fly to Florida with his wife to be with her father Luis Salazar. Salazar, who is a minor league manager in the Braves organization is being treated in an Orlando hospital after being hit in the face by a Brian McCann hit ball. According to reports Salazar suffered facial fractures and possible eye injuries but thankfully there was no brain damage…

    from Shannon Drayer’s Mariners Blog

  10. kyledurlam - Mar 10, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    I took part in the Rockies Fantasy Camp in January. Playing right field I misjudged a pop-up and the damn thing hit me in the mouth. So I know first-hand what kind of damage a baseball can do. I spent six-and-a-half hours in the ER, had surgery the next week, and still to this day not fully recovered.

    The next day at camp, a batter lost his grip on the bat he was swinging and it hit a teammate who was in the on-deck circle in the hand and caused a compound fracture.

    The moral to my story: Sometimes even paying attention is not enough, but it’s still absolutely necessary. So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s paying attention: 1 – erecting a net around the entire field: 0.

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