A batted baseball racing 105-miles-per hour into the stands at Yankee Stadium smashed into the face of a girl just under two years old, producing multiple facial fractures and bleeding on her young brain. Both eyes were swollen shut, and she spent five days in the hospital before doctors allowed her distraught parents to take her home.
But with Sunday's announcement that the New York Yankees, after 11-days of internal deliberation, will extend protective netting to cover more fans, a new controversy inside this current controversy has emerged.
Are the parents, who were sitting close to the field, to blame for allowing their very young daughter to sit in these potentially-dangerous seats?
So instead of the responsibility of fan safety landing on the team for not choosing to erect protective netting – like 11 other major-league teams had done prior to the horrific Sept. 20 incident – we now have a chorus of critics insisting that the parents should have known better, and they are the ones responsible for putting their own daughter in harm's way.
Blame the parents? Let's see if we have this right.
It's hard to believe, but yes, those are the thoughts being expressed, and they are growing in intensity. Of the many critics, here's the view of one enlightened soul named Raul from Chicago, reacting to the news:
"PAY ATTENTION," he writes, "particularly when sitting that close (with a child) at a game. I place 99% of the blame on the parents for 1. Not paying attention, 2. Bringing a small child to a game she's probably not even watching and 3. Sitting that close to the field with a child."
Or put another way, a day spent sitting in some areas of the ballpark can be fine, lovely and enjoyable. But while there, if dangerous objects come at you at warp speed and you cannot defend yourself from potentially-life-threatening injury, well, that's just too bad for you. That's the reasoning offered by the unreasonable?
How awful. And heartless.
Major League Baseball recommended two years ago that teams hang netting that extended from behind home plate to the far end of each dugout on the first- and third-base sides of the field. It was not required, but just over a third of the 30 teams felt a duty to their fans to enact this critical safety measure. And four others – the Mariners, Reds, Rockies and Padres – in the name of public safety announced the very next day after the Yankee Stadium incident that they would do the same.
The Yankees, of course, had the same two years – and 11 more excruciating days in the spotlight after the little girl was maimed – before they finally took action, agreeing to extend the netting for the start of the 2018 season. That will bring the total number of teams that will have erected the netting to 16.
But why did the Yankees delay? Many well-heeled fans purchasing expensive tickets close to the field complained about the prospect of having to peer through any type of obstruction. Ah, yes, of course. Even when these physical horrors, and what can go terribly wrong, are laid bare for us all to see the business of baseball wins out.
But only for so long, it seems.
Because the Yankees agreed to the netting extension only after the girl's father described to the New York Times what his daughter had to endure, and the details of the injuries she suffered.
In 2002, the death of Brittanie Cecil, a 13-year-old girl attending a pro hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, who was struck in the head by a puck and died two days later, got the NHL to install netting around both ends of all of its teams' rinks.
The edict from the league office enraged some closely-situated fans, who objected that their high-priced views were being tampered with. Threats of ticket-purchase boycotts followed. But what really happened? No meaningful protests occurred, tickets kept selling, fans got used to the slight change in optics – and everyone anywhere near both goals could sit back and enjoy the prospect of not having a blazing slapshot fracture their jaw if they happened to momentarily look away from the action.
Geoffrey Jacobson, the father of the girl who has asked that his daughter's name not be used, told the Times that it was "ridiculous” for the Yankees not to get behind the netting initiative. And yes, it was ridiculous. But instead of doing what was obviously the right thing, the Yankees now only look foolish and greedy, having been dragged to where they should have found themselves immediately after one family's nightmare unfolded behind its third-base dugout.
Once again, unfortunately, we know all too well the frightful, long-lasting damage that can occur from being blindsided by a screaming line drive. This little girl, who will turn two-years-old this week, is living proof. And her parents have the events of that truly awful September afternoon seared into their memories, much the same way that the imprint of the stitches from the baseball that hit their daughter is – yes, for now – tattooed on her forehead.
This type of tragedy does not occur frequently. But when it does the results are catastrophic. And the solution is simple and extremely effective. Given this, all teams must extend the protective netting in their stadiums, and immediately agree to enact this public safety policy prior to the start of next season.
And for goodness sake, stop blaming Mom and Dad for taking their kids to a ballgame.