CC Sabathia has four kids. Two sons, two daughters. Ages 14, 12, 9 and 7. They can sit wherever they’d like at Yankee Stadium, or any other ballpark for that matter.
And they all watch from behind protective netting. Dad’s orders.
“Oh yeah,” Sabathia said. “That’s a given.”
Not for everyone, it isn’t. Because at Yankee Stadium — unlike the Mets’ home, Citi Field — the seats closest to the action, the rows exposed on either side of the backstop, remain in the firing line. And that dangerous real estate became the scene of a frightening yet potentially avoidable accident during Wednesday’s matinee, a Yankees’ 11-3 rout, when a young child was struck in the face by a foul ball off Todd Frazier’s bat in the fifth inning.
On a day when the Yankees and Twins should have been sizing each other up in the wild-card race, the fans enjoying a cool late-September afternoon in the Bronx, every soul gathered at the Stadium was consumed by the sight of the child being tended to by EMTs, then carried out, cradled in someone’s arms.
“It was terrible,” Frazier said, speaking softly at his locker. “It’s just something you wish never happened. It’s tough to be a part of it.”
Frazier struggled to regain his composure after pulling a line drive, traveling over 105 mph, into a sea of fans along the leftfield line, just beyond the Twins’ dugout. At that speed, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to avoid, but the child was especially vulnerable.
Almost immediately, Frazier went to one knee, then removed his helmet and bowed his head. Matt Holliday, watching from first base, appeared to tear up. While the fans are at risk for physical harm, the players are human, too. There is an emotional burden to carry when you feel responsible for a child being hurt. Frazier himself has two kids under the age of 5, and he couldn’t unsee the damage his bat had done.
“I think the netting should be up,” Frazier said. “I think every stadium should have it.”
Shame on the Yankees for not having it, even if they remain in the MLB majority. So far, only 10 of 30 ballparks extend protective netting along each foul line, including the Mets, who worked quickly to install the screens at Citi Field during the All-Star break in July. Despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s recommendations that every team deploy the netting — he began stumping for it two years ago — the additional protection still isn’t mandatory.
Manfred has stated that every ballpark is different, so it’s hard to make such a blanket demand from an engineering standpoint. But the part that isn’t discussed as much publicly is the concern expressed by some teams that the netting will make their most expensive seats less desirable. Some fans don’t want to watch through a screen — that’s why they choose the dugout areas rather than the backstop — and teams are sensitive to the opinions of their paying customers.
Why else would two-thirds of the league be dragging their feet on this critical fan-safety issue? The Yankees already use portable screens to shield those at-risk areas during batting practice, which is smart. But it’s merely a half-measure, and as Wednesday’s awful incident reminded everyone, luck is the only thing separating the near-misses from the severe injuries. Basically, it’s Russian roulette. With balls constantly rocketing into the stands, as well as the occasional broken bat, there’s no avoiding them 100 percent of the time.
The Yankees certainly realize that, and a source indicated it’s likely netting could be in place after this season. But there’s no reversing Wednesday’s tragic events. All the Yankees could do was offer their prayers and well wishes for the injured child, as well as petition for the additional netting. That was universal in the clubhouse afterward, even if Girardi deferred to those above his pay grade.
“That comes from upstairs,” Girardi said. “Those are decisions they make.”
By now, everyone is painfully aware that we’re past the point of making decisions. There is no debate here. Every day without a net is another missed opportunity to prevent a fan from being hurt, or even killed.
It’s a risky game to keep playing, with way too much to lose.