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Legislator wants all pro baseball parks in Ohio to install expanded protective

Cole Behrens
January 24, 2020

Columbus Dispatch

Contacted by a constituent blinded in one eye by a hard-hit foul ball at a minor-league baseball game in Ohio, state Rep. John Patterson introduced legislation Thursday that would require all major- and minor-league teams in Ohio to install protective netting from foul pole to foul pole.

Dina Simpson, 46, has been pushing for the change for more than two years.

Simpson was sitting with her family along the third-base line at a 2017 Lake County Captains game in a Cleveland suburb when a line drive rocketed into her face. She suffered a variety of injuries, including a concussion, broken nose, broken orbital bone and orbital blowout.

After many visits to doctors, Simpson was told she was permanently blind in her right eye.

Related content Indians to extend protective netting at Progressive Field January 29, 2020 “I’m thankful I took the hit and not my son,” Simpson said. Her 4-year-old was sitting next to her when she was struck at the class-A game.

The outcry for protective netting grew after a 2 1/2-year-old girl sitting on her grandfather’s lap at a Houston Astros game last season suffered a fractured skull and, her lawyer now says, permanent brain damage when she was hit by a foul ball.

At Major League Baseball’s winter meetings in December, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the protective netting at every park must extend “substantially beyond the end of the dugout.” He said seven teams will have netting from foul pole to foul pole.

The Cincinnati Reds, citing structural problems, will not be expanding the netting all the way to the foul poles, but it will stretch significantly past each dugout, a team spokesman said.

The Cleveland Indians, the parent club of the Lake County Captains, also will be extending their netting at Progressive Field but have not announced how far. An announcement is expected by the end of the month.

The Columbus Clippers — the Indians’ AAA affiliate that plays in Huntington Park — are among minor-league teams pledging to voluntarily extend their netting to the foul poles for the 2020 season.

Several major-league teams, including the Indians, extended the netting from behind home plate to reach the far ends of each dugout prior to the 2018 season.

The legislation from Patterson, a Democrat from Geauga County, would require the pole-to-pole netting to be installed by the 2021 season.

Foul balls striking spectators, especially children, is an all-too-frequent occurrence. NBC News found at least 808 reports of injuries to fans from baseballs from 2012 to 2019. The injuries ranged from concussions to permanent vision loss.

After a ball he hit into the stands last season injured a young fan, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said, “I encourage every MLB team to put the nets all the way down.

“I know it’s all about the fans’ experience of interacting with players, and I completely get that. You want to have that interaction with the fans, getting autographs and stuff, but at the end of the day we want to make sure everybody comes out of this game healthy, and we gotta do something about it.”

The Reds spokesman said, “The safety of Great American Ball Park patrons, players, coaches and staff is the No. 1 priority of the Cincinnati Reds, and we have implemented a number of measures over the past several seasons to address that priority.”

Simpson said the Lake County Captains, who play at Classic Park in Eastlake, never contacted her after her injury, never offered compensation and never apologized.

The “Baseball Rule” is a part of common law that says baseball teams cannot be held liable for injuries suffered by a spectator from foul balls as long as the team has offered some protected seating in the areas where foul balls are most likely to cause injuries. Often, game tickets also include warnings to spectators of possible dangers.

Simpson, who also lives in Geagua County east of Cleveland, said she contacted Patterson in her quest to require additional protection for fans.

“Nobody can fend off a line drive coming at you at 100 mph. Men, women, children, everyone needs to be protected,” Simpson said.

Patterson cited three reasons for an increasing numbers of injuries from baseballs: new stadiums mean fans are closer to the field, the ball comes off the bat much faster than in the past, and many spectators are distracted by cellphones.

“It’s the children I worry about,” Patterson said. “Major League Baseball is beginning to address this seriously.”

It took the death of a 13-year-old girl, Brittanie Cecil, before the NHL expanded its netting requirements. Cecil was struck with a puck in 2002 at a Columbus Blue Jackets home game before dying at a hospital

Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal and Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this story.

Cole Behrens is a fellow at the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.


Twitter: @colebehr_report