Will it take a fan's death for MLB to get safer?

Posted at 7:25 PM, Sep 21, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was never concerned about getting his wife good seats for a road game. The priority was getting safe ones. 

"I find out where the seating is for the families," he said. "If the seating's not behind the net or in the upper deck, then my family doesn't go."

Cozart was impassioned about the need for more protection for the fans even before Todd Frazier's line drive foul ball struck a 3-year-old in the face Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

"I'm frustrated with MLB over this," Cozart said Thursday. "I specifically went to the Reds because a girl was hit earlier in the year and had a bad injury. I witnessed it. I went to the Reds and said something about it. Obviously, they didn't take my word. There's no netting up."

A hour or so after Cozart spoke, the Reds announced that additional netting would be added for the 2018 season. 

Major League Baseball sets guidelines for nets, but leaves the actually installation up to individual teams. The Reds meet the current guidelines, but in the wake of the happened in New York issued this statement:

The Cincinnati Reds plan to install additional netting at Great American Ball Park for the 2018 season, extending new netting to the end of each dugout and replacing the existing netting behind home plate.

The Reds' ongoing commitment to providing the best ballpark experience includes maintaining the safety and security of our fans.

The expanded netting will be installed during the offseason and will be in place by Opening Day 2018, when the Reds take on the Washington Nationals at 4:10 p.m. ET.

Wednesday's incident was frightening, horrible and completely avoidable. 

If Major League Baseball mandated that the netting extend from the backstop to at least the end of the dugouts, incidents like Wednesday's would not happen.

The girl struck reportedly was OK and recovering in New York hospital. But, again, she shouldn't have ended up in the hospital at all. 

In a former life, I covered 130 to 135 games a year. I can't count the times when everyone in the park held their breath after a line shot went into the stands and struck a fan. 

It's a matter of time before an incident like this ends with a fatality. It's simple physics. Fans are sitting closer than ever to the action. The pitchers are throwing with more velocity. The ball is harder. It's leaving the bat at incredible speeds -- 100-plus on the regular basis. 

When a projectile comes into the stands at that speed, even those with the quickest reflexes cannot avoid it.

"I like it," Reds manager Bryan Price said, "for all the obvious reasons. There's not something I know more of than other people. The one thing I know is that balls and bats get into the stands in short order. There's no fault for anyone."

Frazier's drive had some bend to it and left the bat at 105 mph.

"If I'm sitting there in the stands with a glove, I probably can't catch that ball," Cozart said. 

And he's factoring in that he's a major league shortstop and he's paying attention. In the smart-phone era, fans in the first couple of rows might not even be looking at the field. 

"In today's age with phones, even my wife's not going to pay attention the whole time," Cozart said. "It's a three-hour game. It's inevitable that people aren't going to be paying attention the whole time.

"I'll go out there tonight and you'll see 10 kids above the dugout. It's impossible for these parents to pay 100 percent attention to that. At any moment, it can happen with that line drive that Todd hit. 

"It's frustrating for me because I think this issue is pretty simple to fix by mandating every place has it. They can figure it with the engineering."

The argument against netting is it detracts from the fans' experience, but the most expensive seats at every ball park are behind home plate -- and those are behind netting.

"For me as a parent, to 100 percent enjoy the game I want to know I'm safe," Cozart said, "rather than worry about protecting your kid, knowing a line drive might come."

Cozart doesn't think nets will kill fan interaction. 

"We'll still find ways to give balls away," he said. "That's not an issue." 

Again, Cozart hopes all of baseball takes some action.

"I guess it's going to have to be like hockey where somebody dies," Cozart said. "But there's hopefully enough guys around the league to talk about this. The Yankees and Twins talked about it. 

"It just has to be done."