Hoffman's Houston
net gains

Ken Hoffman pitches a solution for Major League Baseball safety concerns

Ken Hoffman pitches a solution for Major League Baseball safety

Astros fan struck by baseball Minute Maid Park Ken Hoffman
Scenes like this should be a thing of the past.  Photo courtesy of ABC13/David J. Phillip/AP

“Thoughts and prayers” are a nice, but what are you waiting for, Houston Astros? Extend Minute Maid Park’s protective netting all the way to the foul poles now. Let’s not have another child get smacked in the head with a 100-mph line drive.

I go to a lot of games. I’ve seen fans get hit by foul balls and carried out of the stands. I’m surprised that somebody hasn’t been killed yet.

A few years ago, Major League Baseball instructed teams to extend the netting to at least the far end of each dugout. That’s not nearly far enough. Not even close.

Why not now?
I hear the reasons why some fans don’t want the netting extended any farther. They say the netting will interfere with their view of the game. What I think they’re really saying is … we don’t like authority telling us what’s good or bad for us.

“I didn’t wear a bike helmet when I was a kid, and I turned out fine.”

“I don’t need the government telling me I have to wear a seatbelt.”

“Why shouldn’t schools be allowed to serve soda and French fries in the cafeteria for lunch? Hey, I’ll raise my dangerously obese, unhealthy child any way I want.”

Well, children should wear bike helmets. It’s a smart law. You need to buckle up. Click it or ticket. And our children are fat enough without eating cake and ice cream for lunch.

Get smart
That’s not authority telling us what we can or can’t do. That’s the world growing smarter. It’s just common safety sense for baseball to extend protective netting all the way to the foul pole. Do it now.

Netting doesn’t affect your view of the game. Rich people, who sit behind home plate in the most expensive seats in the stadium, don’t seem to mind being safe. I’ve sat in those seats a couple of times. You don’t even notice the netting. It doesn’t lessen your view or enjoyment of the game. And foul balls directed behind the plate typically aren’t hit that hard, anyway, that’s why they go backwards.

The most dangerous places to sit in a stadium are exactly where there is no netting now, down the foul lines. That’s asking for trouble, and a couple of nights ago, trouble arrived.

Sure, a blooper video of a fan holding a baby in one arm, and spilling a beer trying to catch a foul ball with his other arm, is funny. It’s also incredibly foolish and lucky.

More than just paying attention
Some fans say, if you pay attention to the game instead of texting, you’ll know when a foul ball is coming toward you, and you can protect yourself. Really? We all used to be hotshots back in Little League and high school. I once won MVP with the Phoenix Media Stars in a game against the King and his Court.

When I go to an Astros game now, I watch the game, every pitch. I’m not jacking around on my phone. There is a good chance there’s a tray of food on my lap, though. I’m pretty certain that if I’m sitting in the stands behind third base, and a screeching, knuckling, 100-mph line drive comes right at me, it’s unlikely I can catch that ball and defend myself.

I’m stuck in a seat that barely fits my rear end, with people on both sides of me, so I can’t move out of the way. I don’t bring a glove to the game because my friends used to mock me when I did. If I had been sitting in the seat where the little girl was struck by a line shot foul ball, I’d probably be in the hospital now. Baseballs are hardballs.

Jai Alai frontons in Florida have a protective net between the players and fans. You don’t want to catch a 140-mph pelota in the head. Those things are like cue balls. Hockey has protective glass and netting to keep pucks out of the stands. Japanese baseball stadiums have had netting to the foul poles for decades.

The MLB players union has asked for higher and longer nets. A while back, the Boston Red Sox went beyond MLB’s suggestion and extended protective netting well past the dugouts. Didn’t seem to jinx the Sox last year.

So yeah, they’ll be griping about authority and too much government and a nanny state. Tough guys will say we’ve gone soft as a nation. Fine.

Extend the netting, Astros. Complainers deserve to be kept safe, too.