A few days ago, Todd Frazier rifled a foul ball into the seats behind the third-base dugout at Yankee Stadium. The ball traveled at 105 mph and hit a young girl. She was immediately sentt to a hospital in New York City, where she is reportedly “doing all right.”
Todd Frazier is a local favorite in New York. As a Little Leaguer he led his Toms River team to the World Championship, going four for four in the nationally televised championship game. He was also a local favorite in Dayton when he played for the Dragons in 2007 and 2008, as he lit up the Midwest League with his spectacular hitting. He carried that momentum as he became a star for the Cincinnati Reds and is now in a class of his own with the Yankees.
When the little girl was hit, Frazier immediately went to his knees, clearly in distress, as were the players and fans. It was the third such incident just this year at Yankee Stadium. It was a unifying moment of care and concern for everyone as this injury renewed the arguments for extending the protective netting from its traditional barrier of just being behind home plate.
This has long been a debate in baseball. In 2015 Commissioner Rob Manfred “encouraged” major league teams to extend the protective netting to the start of the two sideline dugouts, about 70 feet. But so far, in 2017, only about one-third of the 30 major league teams have extended the protective netting to the far end of the dugouts or beyond. In encouraging each team to consider it, the commissioner acknowledged that each team could also take into account all the local nuances of the field and the demands of its fans.
The argument against more netting seems to be that netting takes away the treasured intimacy fans desire for baseball, that netting somehow separates the players from the fans, and that the netting creates a barrier wall. I think there are holes in that theory, and not just in the netting.
This is where the Dayton Dragons are ahead of the curve. On Aug. 17, 2016, the Dragons announced that they were extending the protective netting at Fifth Third Field far beyond the commissioner’s recommendations. It now extends in front of the entire seating area. The Dragons emphasized that it was for the safety and security of the team’s fans, and to enhance the experience of attending a game. The Dragons were right.
For many years my seats at the Dragons’ games have been in the second row behind the home-team dugout. I did love that feeling of intimacy, although I was never actually able to reach out and touch a Dragon. But with that intimacy, I could also never fully relax, for I always felt compelled to concentrate on the batter so I could shield myself or Susan sitting next to me if there were an errant line drive.
This year, the extended netting at Fifth Third Field has been fully installed. It turns out that, after looking at the mechanics of its installation, I barely noticed the netting. While I accepted the fact that no Dragon was going to be throwing a ball to me between innings, I remembered that I had never had a Dragon throw a ball at me when there was no netting. It did not affect my enjoyment of the game.
More importantly, the extended netting significantly improved the safety of the fans in the stands, and I felt safer. So, this fan applauds the Dragons for being ahead of the curve and installing the extended netting. I believe that it will surely prevent the types of injuries that beset that poor little girl at Yankee Stadium.
Dayton attorney Merle Wilberding is one of our regular contributors.