If you think that extra netting the Royals are adding to protect fans sitting behind the dugouts at Kauffman Stadium will ruin your baseball experience, trust me: It won’t ruin it as much as a baseball or bat to the head.
And those balls and bats are destined to continue flying. Sometimes by design.
Let’s say you’re pitching in the major leagues and you have David Ortiz at the plate. (I would advise getting off the mound right away and letting someone who knows what he’s doing pitch to Ortiz, but in this fantasy, you decide to try and get Ortiz out.)
Let’s also say you think Ortiz is in pull mode; he wants to get a pitch on the inside half of the plate and see if he can hit it into the Rivals Sports Bar (which sits above right field).
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A quick way to get strike one on Ortiz is to throw him a “dead fish” on the inner half of the plate. A dead fish is a pitch without much on it; think changeup, BP fastball or less than your best cutter.
If Ortiz takes the bait and swings, he’ll probably hit the heck out of the ball, but — theoretically — the ball will go foul. Because the pitch was off-speed and inside, it will be a screaming line drive that will probably find the seats behind the first-base dugout. You just let a hitter crush a baseball on purpose, but you also got ahead in the count.
Now let’s say you’re a hitter and you have two strikes on you.
The count is 1-2 and the pitcher throws a slider on the outside corner. You want to wait as long as possible to swing the bat because you don’t want to chase a pitch that’s going to wind up in the other batter’s box. But you also can’t afford to take anything close to the plate and get rung up.
So you wait as long as possible, and then, if the pitch is too close to take, you break out your “emergency hack.” That’s a last-second swing designed to spoil the pitch and keep it out of the catcher’s mitt. Think hockey goalie deflecting puck.
The emergency hack often sends a pitch sideways, right into the first few rows of seats. (When a hitter has two strikes on him, fans sitting in the opposite-field stands should always be especially alert.)
If a pitcher throws a dead fish, or a hitter uses an emergency hack, and you’re one of the fans sitting in the seats closest to the field, the ball will be on you in heartbeat. You won’t have much time to react, so you better pay attention.
Problem is, too many fans aren’t paying attention these days. They have their heads down looking at their smart phones — which isn’t all that smart.
When players see fans doing that, or looking away from home plate, or turning their backs to the action, they wince. And it especially bothers them to see small children sitting close to the field with parents who aren’t on high alert. (Put your kids in the seats furthest away from home plate; keep your body between them and the hitter.)
You know those great seats right behind the dugout? Players don’t think those are such great seats. In fact, when they gets tickets for their families or friends, their seats are generally behind the home-plate screen, or far enough away from home plate to make sure they don’t get smoked by a baseball … or a bat.
We’re seeing bats shatter more often than we used to, and pieces of jagged wood helicopter into the stands on a regular basis.
I’ve got a theory: When a ball or chunk of bat flies into the stands, you can tell which fans have actually played some baseball — they’re the ones getting out of the way. The people who haven’t spent much time on the diamond are the fans trying to catch those baseballs and bat shards.
If you ever get a chance to stand up close to a big-league baseball field and see how fast a baseball moves when it leaves a bat, you’ll have a better idea of how little reaction time you have if a baseball is headed in your direction.
The Royals are doing the right thing by adding that extra netting.