Crying "Foul": Baseball Fans Are Getting Hit
Some kids and other spectators have needed brain surgery after being struck in the head
I remember my first baseball game vividly. In 1988, as a recently arrived immigrant from England, it was akin to a religious experience. Inside California’s classic Oakland Coliseum, it felt like I was witnessing the very wellspring of being American. Little did I realize — nor do many others, apparently — just how dangerous a spectator sport it was.
Some 53,000 of the 73,000 foul balls each season are hit into the stands, according to Edwin Comber, creator of foulballz.com. To get an idea of the hazard, consider that a line drive can reach speeds around 80 miles per hour, or 117 feet per second. Anyone sitting in the stands 150 feet from home plate would have a little over a second to get out of the way, and fans farther up would have little more.
Related: Getting Ahead of Concussions
About 1,750 spectators are injured each year by foul balls at major league games, according to an investigation on baseball fan injuries by Bloomberg Businessweek. Most fans struck by a foul will have minor injuries, sometimes sustained while leaping to catch the ball — but occasionally the results are disastrous.
According to the Bloomberg investigation, children often suffer the most serious injuries. In 2010, a six-year-old girl had to undergo intensive surgery after a foul ball at an Atlanta Braves game slammed into her skull, shattering it. A 7-year old in Chicago was hit by a foul line drive at his first game and suffered severe brain swelling. An 18-month-old toddler had to be rushed to a Seattle hospital in 2014 and a 12-year-old to intensive care in New York in 2011 after they were hit by foul balls.
One teenager, 14-year-old Alan Fish, was killed by a foul ball hit by a Dodger at a game in Los Angeles.
Adults aren't exempt from these freak accidents. Several fans were struck in the head by foul balls within about a month of each other this season. On August 14, 2015, Dana Mattay, a single mother of two, was at a ballgame at the Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas, to celebrate starting a new job. She had just switched seats with her daughter and was raising her head after reaching down to get some popcorn when she was struck between the eyes. Mattay had to undergo 9 hours of surgery to rebuild her face.
John McHale, the Major League Baseball executive vice president who oversees ballpark security, has told reporters that he doesn’t see an “epidemic of foul ball damage that would warrant some sort of edict or action by the commissioner’s office.” Some safety advocates have called for more extensive netting to protect fans in the lower decks from stray balls, but other fans decry the notion, saying that it would interfere with their view.
How to dodge a fast ball
In the meantime, experts at Pro Baseball Insider, personal injury attorneys and parents of children injured at baseball games suggest taking these steps to protect yourself during the game.
Sit behind a web or in the upper decks, especially if you have infants or children. Sure, it’s thrilling to be so close to the players. But it’s not worth risking a baseball rocketing toward your child’s head. “My wife and baby always sit behind a net,” writes Doug Bernier in Pro Baseball Insider, who says a friend coaching the Atlanta Braves lost an eye to a line drive.
Keep your eye on the ball. If you’re checking your iPhone or tablet, joking with the folks behind you or even reaching down for some popcorn, you may not see that foul ball speeding your way. Bernier urges fans to stay alert.
Take a baseball glove to the game. It’s not just for catching that great souvenir ball.
Don’t lean over a railing to catch a ball. In July 2011, 39-year-old firefighter Shannon Stone, a Texas Rangers fan, died after falling over a railing trying to catch a foul ball. A couple of months before that, a 27-year-old man fell 20 feet and died at a Colorado Rockies game. Likewise, avoid a stampede to catch a ball; you don’t want to risk getting trampled.
Related: How to Survive a Stampede
Avoid drinking too much. Even if you can afford the cost of a more than one stadium brew these days, water is a better choice, both to beat the heat and to stay alert. You may need your reflexes to dodge (or catch) that oncoming foul.