Extending The Nets – A View From Both Sides

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One of my favorite classes I ever took in College was a class called Critical Thinking. It was taught by my now good friend Terry Peterman. I was a truck driver back then, running 24-36 hour long routes, driving 35 minutes home, showering and then driving another 30 minutes to school. Needless to say sleep was non-existent to me for those couple of years.

Peterman would let me sleep in class if I dozed off, which is why it was my favorite. I kid, I kid! What made that class my favorite was that it taught me to view an argument from both sides and not to be cemented in your own opinion. Argue both sides, and then form your opinion. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. Either way, it’s a good rule to follow. Keep an open mind.

When Major League Baseball first announced that they were considering extending the netting around home plate to the edges of the dugout – or further, my initial reaction was much like some of yours: pissed off to put it lightly. I don’t want netting in the way, not because it affects my view, but because it takes away from the game. It takes away from the excitement and the anticipation of catching a foul ball. If I go home with a bloody nose and a foul ball, then my night was made.

That’s the argument a lot of us have or had. I get it. From the time I attended my first baseball game on September 19th, 1989 at the old Arlington Stadium, one of my goals was to catch a foul ball. It took until the 2014 season for me to finally do so. I was in the second level and it was off the bat of Eric Sogard on a pitch thrown by Nick Martinez.

The ball wasn’t hit particularly hard but as the ball skimmed off the palm of my hand and drilled me in the chest, it still left stitching imprints on my skin. I felt like I had accomplished something. I grabbed the ball raised it high to show everyone and then passed the ball around to my party.

That baseball that wasn’t hit relatively hard in comparison to a lot of foul balls, still left stitching imprints on my chest and I was at least 200 feet away – halfway down the third base line in the second level.

And I was paying attention and had plenty of time to react.

Imagine if I was sitting in the lower levels, say the Commissioners Box or behind the dugout and that ball had been hit harder. Even though I was paying attention, that ball would have been on me in less than a half a second. It’s said that the average human reaction time for a visual stimulus is .25 seconds. A quarter of a second.

So you have a line drive coming at your face somewhere between 90 and 100 mph or more. You have no glove and you’re not expecting the ball to be hit at you even though you are paying attention. Unlike the players on the field, you are not “baseball ready”. You have a beer in your hand, or your snacking on a hot dog, maybe you’re pointing out something on the field to your four year old kid that is attending his or her first baseball game.

Do you have enough time to react? Some would say mathematically, yes you do. During my research while I was writing this article, I came across some dude’s blog and how he feels humans are more than capable of reacting to a foul ball thus, no need for netting. As I read further into this piece, the more disgusted I got. The paragraph that stuck out to me the most was this:

At 95 MPH traveling 70 feet, Speed Calculator Online calculates the time a fan has to react to be at 500 milliseconds, well within the limits of an average person’s reaction abilities. Cut the distance back to 60 feet and it reaches the fan in about 430 ms. Back to 50 feet? Still well within the realm of normal response time at 360ms. The fan has plenty of time to react and to figure out what they will have for breakfast the next morning.

 

This guy apparently thinks a couple of hundred of milliseconds is “plenty of time to react.” Some science experts say that our minds lag behind actual events by 80 milliseconds. That is nearly half of the time that foul ball guy says is “plenty of time to react.”

Even if you do have plenty of time, what are you going to do once you react? Where are you going to go? You’re surrounded by other fans, kids, and vendors. And if you choose not to get out of the way, what the hell are you going to catch the ball with? Most folks don’t bring gloves to the game. You’re going to try and catch that screamer with your bare hands? Good luck. Not even Adrian Beltre is that much of a bad ass.

Delino DeShields was 60 feet away from a pitcher when he unleashed a 95 mph fastball. DeShields was wearing a helmet and had a bat. He was paid to hit the baseball therefore he must have good reaction times. DeShields was hit in the face with the pitch. He was hospitalized and missed the rest of the season.

deshields-face

Delino DeShields after being hit in the face with a fastball while with the Corpus Christi Hooks.

What about guys like Giancarlo Stanton who was hit in the jaw with a pitch last year, or Jason Heyward who had the same thing happen? What about Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett who had his career ended by a pitch that hit him in the eye? I haven’t asked him but I’d be willing to bet that Brandon McCarthy is 100% on board with additional netting. Just a hunch.

Are you going to walk up to these guys and say “YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION!!”

Guess what.. they were. And they still were severely injured. Brandon McCarthy had to have life saving brain surgery.

The super macho, do no wrong guy from above goes on to say that you have enough time to duck out of the way and “take it on the shoulder instead of the head.” Seriously? I’ve been hit in the shoulder with a line drive off the bat. I was throwing batting practice behind an L screen and the ball still found it’s way to my shoulder. The ball was smoked by an adult in an amateur baseball league. It wasn’t some little league kid. It hurt like hell. It swelled up immediately. It turned purple. So don’t tell me that “taking it in the shoulder” is an acceptable means of reaction time. What if you ducking out of the way exposes an eight year old kid sitting behind you that was showing his dad the autograph on his glove that he got during BP and the ball drills him right in the face?

Then what?

“… but.. but.. he had time to react!”

No he didn’t.

You cannot expect people to go to a baseball game and keep their eyes on the batter 100% of the time for three hours. It’s simply not going to happen. You can’t quarantine off fans into “family sections” either. Everyone has the right to sit where they way. Yes there are risks involved in sitting in certain sections but don’t you think that we can take some measures to prevent some of these accidents?

If your sole argument is that this takes away from the game by limiting foul balls to fans and that fans should pay more attention, maybe you should take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, what it’s like to be the perfect, immortal person on a daily basis.

If getting a baseball at a game is a goal of you or your kids, then get there early and watch batting practice. I guarantee you you are more likely to get a ball during BP than you are a foul ball during a game. Your kiddo isn’t going to give a damn how he got the ball, all he cares about is that he got one. You know how I know that? Read this story about Keone Kela tossing a kid a ball.

If you’re an adult and getting a ball at a game is your sole purpose, let it go. It’s a baseball, I have three dozen of them at home. If you want one, I will gladly give you one. I get that catching a foul ball at a game is a pretty awesome ordeal and that opportunity isn’t going away with additional netting. The only thing going away with additional netting is line drives to peoples faces.

When the Rangers announced that they were extending the netting around home plate to the ends of each dugout, my first reaction was – finally.

After having plenty of time to think about this, I had changed my mind. I believe that the netting is needed. As a matter of fact, I was a little shocked that the netting wasn’t higher than the six feet but I think this is a fantastic safety measure. There are times when people overreact to an isolated incident but this is not one of those times.

Major League Baseball and the Texas Rangers have done the right thing.

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Billy Casey
Billy is a baseball fanatic and has been around the game since he was four years old. The first ever game he attended was in September of '89 and Pete Incaviglia denied him an autograph after he had a bad batting practice session. Billy has held a grudge since. Billy is also a baseball coach who is known to dance around the dugout like Ron Washington during big plays in the game.

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