By Ryan Mayer CBS Local Sports

Going to a Major League Baseball game is a great experience for the fans, one that I’ve always enjoyed. Sitting in the seats for nine innings with the family surrounded by the smell of hot dogs, the sound of a bat meeting the ball, and the roar of the crowd as a line drive is hit is a memorable experience for everyone. However, there is a danger to going and watching these games.

When the MLB put the nets in behind home plate to protect fans it was seen as an improvement in safety for spectators. The nets were supposed to protect those behind the plate from the balls that are fouled quickly off directly behind them or anywhere up to the dugouts. It has done its job and allowed for a safer viewing experience as the pitchers continue to throw harder and the ball comes off the bat quicker.

Last week a woman named Tonya Carpenter was struck in the head by a broken bat while sitting in the stands at Fenway Park. She was taken off the field by stretcher and rushed to the hospital where she remains, though she has recently been upgraded to “fair” condition. She was attending the game with a young child.

There’s no doubt that the fans aren’t protected enough at these games. I understand that there are warnings clearly depicted all over the stadium and on the video boards. “Fans beware that balls and bats leaving the field of play could be hazardous to your health.” We’ve all heard those warnings in the lead up to the first pitch. The problem is those warnings aren’t enough to protect the paying customers. Call this a hot take if you want, but the numbers are undeniable.  Bloomberg published an article last year that said 1,750 fans each year are injured by foul balls

Now news has come down over the past few days from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that the MLB Players Association proposed installing additional netting behind the plate during the last two rounds of CBA talks, but the owners were worried about upsetting the fans that pay a lot of money for those seats by further obstructing their view. The quotes from Rosenthal:

“Some owners are afraid to upset the fans that pay some of the highest ticket prices, when in reality, it’s an effort to protect those very fans,” said Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler, a member of the negotiating committee for the players’ union.

“(The owners) seem afraid that fans will lose access to the players – autographs, getting baseballs, etc. — and that will cause those ticket holders to be unhappy. Or, that they’d have to watch the game through a net. (But) fans behind home plate pay the highest prices, have the same issues, and yet those seats are always full.”

The most salient point made there is those seats are always full. Yes, fans may be unhappy at first, but overall they want to come see these games and they’ll continue to want to sit as close as possible. Sometimes, we as customers need to be protected from ourselves. There’s no reason the netting shouldn’t continue to extend to at least behind the dugouts to allow for more reaction time to any foul ball or broken bat that comes our way. If you put up netting behind the dugouts, then at least those fans are protected and the ones further down the line and in the outfield do have more reaction time and ability to get out of the way of any objects leaving the field.

More importantly, if the owners are really that worried about the people paying for those tickets being upset, then lower the prices. It’s a crazy idea I know, because how could you ever not charge $250 and up for those seats right behind the plate? Yet, if you drop the price on those tickets in conjunction with adding more protection for those fans in additional netting, then I don’t think you’d see much change in ticket sales.

The good news, as he’s proven multiple times early in his tenure as commissioner, Rob Manfred seems to have the right mindset and his finger on the pulse of things surrounding the sport. When asked at last night’s MLB Entry Draft about the issue, Manfred had this to say.

“When you have an issue like this, an incident like this, you have to go back and re-evaluate where you are on all of your safety issues and trust me, we will do that. Just like we are on a variety of issues right now at the beginning of my tenure,” Manfred said.

Overall, the owners need to forget about possibly upsetting people. They need to be more concerned about the safety of their fans and this is an issue that can’t wait until the next round of CBA negotiations between the two sides. We’ve seen what can happen when objects leave the playing field and go into the stands. The MLB is lucky that this incident didn’t result in the death of a fan the way it did with the NHL back in 2003. They have an opportunity to get ahead of the game here and cut off the possibility of more serious injury by proactively adding additional netting behind the plate and along the baselines. The fans will get over whatever feelings they have when incidents like the one we saw in Boston stop occurring. 

 Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email him. 

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