I am glad that all of MLB’s 30 teams have extended the safety netting at their ballparks for the 2016 season. Why? Because I don’t believe that attending a baseball game should be a contact sport.
Okay, okay. I know that it is a spectator’s responsibility to pay attention at all times. It says so in the disclaimer on the back of every game ticket. It is announced at the beginning of every baseball game at every stadium. It would also seem that it is just plain common sense that if there is a possibility of a baseball or a shattered bat making a bee-line for your unprotected melon, that you might want to pay attention. But that is not the world in which we now live.
How many times does the average person look at their center-of-their-universe cell phone over the course of their day? Think about it. The answer is astonishing. I actually researched this question and found that the number landed somewhere between 110 to 150 times per day. That’s incredible, right? People are so wrapped up in text messages, e-mail, Instagram, Snap Chat, and Facebook that it is a wonder that they have time for anything else. That is our world of today. Social Media rules the day, and sadly for so many people, it has replaced the real world. With that said, the average length of a MLB game is 2 hours and 58 minutes. In our social media-text message centered world, how many people do you know that can simply shut the damn phone off for almost three hours? If you are honest with yourself, you will find that the answer is probably close to zero.
That is hardly the only distraction at the old ballgame. If you made the trip to the ball park with your family in tow, guess what? You have that distraction! Did you notice the huge, new multi-million dollar scoreboard? Distraction. Do you like peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jacks (or hot dogs, beer, ice cream, or…), or the person carting them around? Distraction.
There is yet another factor, and it is this…there is the possibility that even if you are paying attention, you may not be agile enough to protect yourself against flying objects from the field. How many times have we seen a batted ball or a broken bat go sailing into the stands and strike a fan who was paying attention? Quite a bit, I’m afraid. A foul ball is still a batted ball, and a ball can leave the MLB bat at well over 100 MPH. Is the average fan quick enough to get out of the way? Maybe, or maybe not. We have all seen both.
My point in all of this is that for most people, it is not as easy as ‘just pay attention’. It really isn’t, so with that said do MLB venues have a responsibility to ensure fan safety? No organization wants to have an unsafe environment where fans are afraid to attend the games. There is no revenue in empty seats, so isn’t in MLB’s best interests to make things as safe as possible? Even if there is no legal obligation to do so, I believe that they should. If MLB is all about the ‘fan experience’, shouldn’t fan safety be a part of the experience?
Lastly, about the netting…Does anybody really believe that it will somehow degrade the view? I submit that if you are not sitting in the very first row with the netting tickling your nose, the netting will make absolutely no difference in your ability to see the action on the field. If you are sitting 20 rows back, is the average fan even going to notice? Even if you did notice the nets when you first got there, the nets will quickly just fade into the visual background.
People ultimately have the responsibility for their own safety, and a huge part of that is being aware of your surroundings, and people should be prepared to react to the ever-changing landscape. However, sometimes they are not. I think that it is prudent and reasonable for MLB and it’s teams to do whatever they can to keep the game safe for the fans.