Baseball commissioner’s office looking into stadium guidelines to enhance spectators’ safety

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CHICAGO — You see it at least once or twice in every Major League Baseball game. A pitcher delivers a mid-90s fastball and a hitter unleashes a violent swing that’s either a little too early or a tick too late on the pitch. The result is a terrifying rocket off the bat, traveling more than 100 mph into the stands of the lower bowl of the stadium.

From there, the hope is that a person is paying attention enough to move out of the way or the rocketing projectile slams into an empty seat or inanimate object.

For the number of times it occurs in big-league and minor-league games across the country, it seems miraculous that more fans aren’t seriously injured by wayward line drives.

With smartphones and selfies, a fan’s attention is being divided during games. There is less time spent closely watching each and every pitch and the following results. But even if you are watching closely, the reaction time to move out of the way is minimal.

And yet, you are supposedly at your own risk.

In the fine print of those great seats purchased behind the dugout or down the right-field line, there is a warning that by purchasing those tickets, you are accepting the risk that comes with attending a baseball game, including being struck by foul balls. They call it the “Baseball Rule.”

But that is being challenged in a lawsuit against Red Sox owner John Henry.

The Washington Post reported a fan named Stephanie Taubin has filed a lawsuit against Henry and the organization after being struck by a foul ball at Fenway Park in 2014.

Taubin’s lawsuit is based on the premise that renovations to Fenway had removed protective glass from in front of the seat she had purchased and was never replaced. In the lawsuit, she claims to have suffered facial fractures and some neurological damage from the incident.

And that wasn’t even the worst incident at Fenway in recent years. On June 5, Tonya Carpenter was struck in the face by a wooded shard from Oakland’s Brett Lawrie’s broken bat while sitting on the third-base line where there is no protective netting. At the time, police and medical officials considered the injuries life-threatening. She spent a week at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has said MLB is looking into safety features.

Thursday, Manfred discussed the subject of fan safety with the media at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. A few hours later, a woman was struck in the forehead by a foul ball off the bat of Freddy Galvis and required medical attention.

“We are examining all of the relevant information,” Manfred told reporters. “Our goal is to put the commissioner’s office in a position where we can make a complete recommendation to ownership in November and give people an opportunity to be ready to make changes for next year if, in fact, we decide that changes are necessary.”

Manfred said the league is studying how to implement any changes and how it would affect every team.

“I suspect we would adopt industry guidelines,” he said. “But there is going to be some individual decision-making here because of the design of ballparks. The designs are so different.

“Frankly, when we started to look at it, you lose track of how different they really are. It’s more of a challenge to devise meaningful guidelines for the industry because the ballparks are so different. So it’s going to be a combination of the two,” he said.

But should teams wait for Manfred’s decision?

The Mariners have had preliminary discussions about the situation, but nothing firm in place. Why not be proactive about the situation? How many injuries will it take?

Protecting their fans by adding extended netting down past the dugout seems like a logical and easy choice for respective owners of teams.