Flying bat at Fenway Park should send warning to MLS

By Paul Gardner

The recent horrendous “accident” at baseball's Fenway Park, where a fan suffered what was, at the time, called a "life-threatening injury" when she was struck by part of a splintered bat, should ring some alarm bells at MLS.

I have put “accident” in quotes because the word seems to me to be inadequate. The dictionary definition is “a happening that is not expected, foreseen or intended.” Not intended, very definitely. Not expected, well, maybe. But not foreseen?

That cannot be the case here. Protective netting is standard behind home plate, so the dangers to fans -- from foul balls -- are quite definitely foreseen. Obviously, a decision was made by the Boston Red Sox not to extend that netting down the first base line. In other words, a clear danger to fans was dismissed as unlikely, as extremely unlikely, presumably. No doubt there are stats to back up that decision.

But the unlikely has happened, and its tragic consequences make the Red Sox decision look like a very poor one. The good news is that the victim is now expected to recover. I suppose it is likely that there will be legal consequences.

It is an ugly fact that potentially dangerous situations -- e.g. a traffic black spot -- often do not get corrected until a nasty “accident,” possibly a death, happens.

An accident that is waiting to happen cannot really be termed an accident. MLS has just such a situation at a number of its stadiums, where fans are allowed to sit down at field level, along the sidelines, immediately behind the advertising boards.

There they are within a yard or two of the action, sitting at little round tables, eating and drinking. I have no doubt that this arrangement is the brainwave of some superior marketing mind, and that the fans pay well enough for the privilege of getting so close to the action.

The potential danger is obvious. A few seasons ago, it came within a foot or two of being translated into nasty reality. This happened during a game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Red Bulls, in what was then called the Home Depot Center. Red Bull striker Luke Rodgers, evidently exasperated at a referee call, slammed the ball hard into the crowd. Very hard. The ball kept low -- headed straight for a woman sitting in one of these privileged sideline seats.

Luckily, the woman was paying attention. She saw the ball coming, and adroitly, with great coolness, swayed her head out of the ball’s flight.

It made a great YouTube video. But had she not moved -- well, a fan who was in the stadium told me he reckoned the ball would “have taken her head off.” I was told later that she was not a fan, but rather an employee of the Galaxy. What work she was doing down there, no one could tell me.

A dramatic warning that, as far as I'm aware, has been totally ignored. Certainly, there are still MLS stadiums in which these ridiculous sideline festivities, fans being served drinks during the game, continue.

The “accident” -- a ball smashing into one of those neat little tables, disrupting the party, maybe taking out a fan or two -- is waiting to happen. When it does -- and it will -- we will be asked to believe that it was an accident, without the quote marks.

MLS has certainly been warned. After all, the worst of the worst had happened in 2002 when a 13-year old was killed by a flying puck at an NHL game. The NHL responded by putting compulsory safety netting at each end of their arenas. A settlement of over $1 million was agreed between the child's family and the NHL. Luke Rodgers provided an emphatic reminder of that tragedy, and now the events at Fenway Park should have sharpened MLS awareness.

Common sense says those show-off, VIP seats on the sidelines at MLS games should be banned. But common sense never gets too far with the marketing mob. Legal consequences just might.

18 comments about "Flying bat at Fenway Park should send warning to MLS".
  1. bgix , June 11, 2015 at 1:40 p.m.

    Nets in baseball protect people from is what is a natural consequence of the game. A player throwing a ball at someone off-pitch is not a natural consequence of the game, it is a player misbehaving.

    Maybe we should protect the crowd from *all* misbehaving players.... If a player was angry enough at fans, they may attempt to enter the crowd and start beating people up: The common sense thing to do is therefore to install an invisible dog-fence around the perimeter of each pitch, and make shocking dog collars a standard part of the uniform.

  2. Allan Lindh, June 11, 2015 at 1:46 p.m.

    Point well taken Mr. Gardner, but soccer balls rarely injure let alone kill. More likely is that a fan near the field will be struck by a player hurdling the boards, or flying off after a hard check at, or across, the touchline.

  3. Keith Osterhoudt, June 11, 2015 at 1:50 p.m.

    Most, not all, people that are paying for those seats are fans, true fans that want to watch the match, and therefore will see a ball hurtling toward them.

  4. Bobby Bluntz, June 11, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    Allan, a struck ball can definitely do some serious damage if someone isn't paying attention. You could definitely give some a serious concussion if they weren't paying attention and were struck by a ball. The balls in professional games are fully aired up and are really hard. If someone hit a volley at an unsuspecting women and caught her flush, she's getting knocked out for sure. I've seen a couple of players break their arms or wrists getting hit just right while not looking. How many bloody noses from getting hit flush in the face? A lot, and most the time those players are facing it, ready.

  5. Chris Sapien , June 11, 2015 at 2:04 p.m.

    An implied waver contract with each ticket purchased should cover any of these very rare occurrences. So sick of the "nanny state" mentality and frivolous jurisprudence in our lives. Personal responsibility, freedom to choose, and acceptance of possible consequences is what made our country different and Great! Now look at us SMH....

  6. Albert Harris, June 11, 2015 at 2:24 p.m.

    I agree with you Chris re: fans sitting in the stands; but, PG addresses specifically those sitting in the sideline 'party tables' just off the field proper. Not having been in LA, I can't say I've noticed them, but if were a team's lawyer, I'd advise them to discontinue the practice 'post haste' or be prepared to have large legal bills one day.

  7. Chris Sapien , June 11, 2015 at 2:41 p.m.

    I know many would advise the same Albert, but at some point we need to tip all this back onto the consumer, as inferred with the "waiver" contract. Full disclosure of consequences would be obligatory of course, and if they assume the risk, let them, period. If then the market for the seats collapses, you have your answer, and they can be discontinued. At some point we'll all be walking around in air-bag bubbles the way our culture is going!

  8. brett wyatt, June 11, 2015 at 4:42 p.m.

    Chris Sapien is absolutely right with the waiver printed on the back of the ticket. furthermore, it's a fans responsibility to pay attention to the game when they attend one, particularly in baseball. this article is typical whiney PG BS...

  9. Phil Hardy, June 11, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    I'm with PK, we should remove any risks at all in life and wrap ourselves in cocoons to protect us from the million to one chances we will get killed by a soccer ball. Actually, I doubt any bookmaker will give you odds on anyone getting killed by a soccer ball, a baseball, or a splintered baseball bat. Let's not ruin the game experience in a Paul Kennedy cocoon. And if we must, can I sit in the dangerous 'no nets' section? Glasgow Celtic are putting in terraces again, PK must be having a heart attack about this.

  10. uffe gustafsson, June 11, 2015 at 8:33 p.m.

    It becomes a nanny state because when ever someone gets hurt they always get a lawyer to collect. Those waivers are just a piece of paper nothing more. Obviously baseball is in much greater risk then soccer ever would be to get hurt badly. I think what PG is upset is this catering first class of tables with wine and dine close the touch lines. Not sure why you go to a game to have resturant service for you. Seem really out of place to me. But it's the corporate world to you.
    Hope they use plastic glasses for the wine service.LOL

  11. Ginger Peeler, June 11, 2015 at 8:34 p.m.

    I've seen a soccer ball, struck by a pro player, clocked at 90+ mph with a radar gun. From what I've read, a 60 mph velocity is more usual. If a ball, struck that hard, deflects off an advertising board into a fan seated at a table, some real bodily damage could be the result. Printing the possible dangers on the back of a ticket is not going to be noticed by a lot of people. Several large signs placed around the vicinity (like the signs posted at motel/hotel pools that do not have lifeguards) would be better. But, in our uber litigious society, a signed waver (like you sign in the doctor's office, prior to being taken back to a room) is probably the only way to avoid litigation in case someone is injured by a wayward ball. Most people will assume that you wouldn't be selling "ringside table" seats if there were any danger involved. As to someone being able to eat and drink and keep an eye out for stray socker balls because they are a true fan? Even if that ball is only traveling at 30 mph, they could still be easily caught off guard. So put up some nets, keep the fans safe and secure and, as a soccer stadium serving food and drinks at field-side tables, avoid the very real possibility of a lawsuit.

  12. uffe gustafsson, June 11, 2015 at 8:54 p.m.

    Be very clear the food and beverage services are big money makers for all organization.
    And the seats we talking about is all corporate seats. They are the money backers to these clubs.
    That's how they reward their clients.
    So how to stop these silly side lines tables?
    Send them back up to the box seats or next to the players benches. But not close the goals.

  13. Jeff EAst, June 12, 2015 at 10:01 a.m.

    omg paul you are such a wimp, please take some testosterone pills and get back to us. did you really draw comparisons of a hockey puck to a soccer ball???

  14. R2 Dad, June 13, 2015 at 1:44 p.m.

    That MLS referee should be reprimanded for not carding the player. That's always a card, and by not giving it MLS is effectively encouraging bad behavior. It's much easier to crack down on the front end than try to prevent ball damage after the fact.

  15. Kenneth Barr, June 13, 2015 at 6:48 p.m.

    Once again, Paul "Gloom & Doom" Gardner mixes up foreseeable and unexpected. A broken bat flying into the stands is a foreseeable event in baseball. A petulant player firing a ball into the stands is a punishable offence under the laws. Paul, it really is time to retire.

  16. William Anderson, June 15, 2015 at 9:58 a.m.

    I don't see the comparison between baseball bats and soccer balls.

    Nobody goes to a gang brawl with a soccer ball as their weapon.

  17. Margaret Manning, June 24, 2015 at 8:21 p.m.

    Someone who goes to a soccer game is presumed to know and assume the risk of soccer balls hitting them.

    The bat situation is a bit different. The same legal principle will likely apply, but the club would be stupid not to cover the women's expenses and give her a lifetime pass.

  18. Margaret Manning, June 24, 2015 at 8:24 p.m.

    The ticket waiver is ineffective. It's a legal principle called assumption of the risk. You are assumed to know that balls fly through the air in all directions at a soccer game. And it's been upheld in many cases in Baseball injuries.

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