Mike Hendricks of the Kansas City Star is reporting that on Tuesday, January 19 the Jackson County Legislature “passed a resolution urging the Kansas City Royals to add safety netting along the first- and third-base sides of Kauffman Stadium.”
The purpose of this, of course, would be to help protect spectators seated in the lower level of “The K” from wayward bats and balls that inevitably find their way into the stands over the course of a game.
It is well documented that foul balls and broken bats can and do pose a risk to fans who pay good money to come watch their team play a baseball game. It is currently estimated that approximately 1,750 spectators are injured every year by foul balls. The truth that nothing is being done to help reduce or eliminate this very preventable but all too common occurrence is as negligent as it is troubling.
There are, of course, those who continue to balk at the prospect of netting lining the railings of a beautiful stadium like “The K” (or any stadium for that matter). Whenever it is suggested that it is finally time to take this step to ensure fan safety two basic arguments are often presented; 1.) The netting would obscure the sight lines and would distract from the simple beauty of the game and 2) The people who get hit need to pay more attention and “get off their phones.” Both of these arguments are a classic exercise in missing the point.
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Anyone who has ever been gifted with the opportunity to watch a game from directly behind home plate knows that the netting that is in place does nothing to distract from the action on the field. In some ways, the promise of this protection actually empowers the fans to pay closer attention to the details of the game due to the fact that they need not flinch every single time a foul ball begins to head their way.
Consider, as well, the sport of hockey. The plexiglass that surrounds the ice allows fans to get even closer to the action and does not in any way prevent those seated near the glass from losing themselves in the action on the ice. If hockey officials feel it necessary to protect fans from a rubber puck that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour should it not be expected for baseball to provide the fans protection from foul balls that can reach speeds of 110 mph?
Secondly, fans attend sporting events for a wide variety of reasons. It should not be expected that every single fan (especially children, elderly, or those with a physical or cognitive disability) can and will watch every single pitch of a 9-inning game. During the course of a three hour contest fans will talk to their companions, examine their scorecards, order a beverage or a snack, check on their children, and yes, look at their cellphone. Fans should not ever have to question that their safety or the safety of those around them could be jeopardized by what occurs on the field.
For their part, the KC Royals organization says that they are conducting a “feasibility study” that has not yet been completed. Regardless of the results of this study the Royals need to continue to be trendsetters in this new age of baseball by taking this step to ensure that every fan who comes to “The K” does so feeling safe and protected.