Sinister Souvenirs

Recent Fan Falls Have MLB Considering New Safety Regulations

CROSS TIMBERS, Texas – Every child who has ever been to a baseball game has dreamed of getting a game-used ball. You see it at local youth and high school games where kids chase down fouls and home runs only to be heart broken when a player or coach comes to retrieve the ball. In the Majors, games are fueled by seemingly unlimited amounts of baseballs. So much so that the game-used ball has become one of the most idolized sports souvenirs, and it’s free – sometimes.

Recently fans have begun leaning too far over the railing to catch these “free” souvenirs risking life and limb for a ball that can be bought at many stores for under $20, but the memory and story that comes with catching a ball cannot be bought. I still remember the first and only time I caught a foul ball.

I was at a Frisco Roughriders game when Ian Kinsler popped a foul ball up just over the third base dugout. It was late in the game, and the stadium had begun to clear out. There were about three rows between me and the man in front of me. Leaning over these I caught the ball in the very tip of my glove. I still remember it perfectly. Everyone dreams of catching a ball, but new regulations may eliminate this from the fan experience.

After Josh Hamilton tossed a ball into the stands at Rangers Ballpark causing a fan to fall over the rail, Major League Baseball is considering implementing new rules to keep players from tossing balls to fans. This rule would do little to protect fans and greatly hurt the fan experience. A player tossing a ball to a fan is probably the safest way one could get a souvenir baseball. Of all the ways to get hurt at a ball game, players tossing balls to fans has to be at the bottom of the list.

Every year spectators are injured by foul balls either because they were unaware of the ball coming towards them, did not react quickly enough, or simply foolishly leaned over a rail or seats to catch it. Those balls can be moving over 100 miles per hour, and if one strikes a person in the head it can be very damaging. Even players have been hurt by batted balls. Pitchers are struck in the head on line drive come-backers and players line foul balls into the dugouts. Still the most dangerous souvenir has to be the thrown bat. Bats flying into the stands have become more and more common. People not paying attention to the game or trying to catch a piece of lumber hurtling towards them have caused injuries as well.

So should the entire field be screened in like the backstop? That would protect from bats, but foul balls can still be hit over the screen. Plus, if the entire field is enclosed then we would never see the amazing over-the-rail catches that are familiar on the highlight reels. If players are no longer allowed to toss balls to fans then the game will lose another bit of its charm that has attracted audiences for decades.

As it is, players have restrictions on when they can sign autographs. If fan interaction with the players is reduced further then fans may as well not go to a game at all. They can see the game from their couch at home. Then big league teams would lose money, be unable to pay players, and ultimately shut down. Without fan interaction there would be no Major League Baseball, so for its own sake baseball should not implement new rules restricting fans further. Yes, raise the railings but don’t limit player-fan interaction; it’s what baseball is built on.

To see this article as it was originally published in the Cross Timbers Gazette, click here

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