So far, fans in Chase Field have been spared the trauma of being struck from flying bats and hit from foul balls zipped into the stands. In other venues, fans seem to continually subjected to these objects flying around with horrific consequences.
Perhaps the most stunning was the death of 13-year-old Brittaine Cecil in March, 2002. Cecil was in the stands at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, watching an NHL game between Calgary and Columbus when struck by a puck. She died two days later from her injury, and that prompted the NHL to place netting, from the curve of the boards behind each net and rising 18 feet, in all arenas.
Recent events at major league ball parks have prompted a debate, renewed and on-going, to protect fans in suspect locations. On June 5 at Fenway Park, 44-year-old Tonya Carpenter was struck with pieces of a broken bat between her eyes and the injury was deemed life-threatening. She underwent brain surgery and eventually recovered.
Last Friday night in Comerica Park at Detroit, a woman was struck by a foul ball off the bat of Tigers’ outfielder Anthony Gose and taken the hospital. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, more than 1,750 fans are struck by baseballs every year.
Fan safety, while not a high-profile issue surrounding baseball, is nonetheless, a concern for both players and management. The players union raised the issue during negotiations of the last bargaining agreement discussion, and the issue will likely be raised again during the 2016 talks.
The remedy appears simple, but the question remains, will any change in stadium policy alter the existing fan experience? More importantly, does the safety of fans outweigh the traditional logistics of watching baseball, up close and personal, from seats around the dugout.
“Sometimes, the force of a bat or ball into the stands is greater down the lines than behind the dugout,” said Arizona manager Chip Hale before Tuesday’s game with the Cardinals at home. “Look at what was done in Japan, and in the Little League World Series. The best solution is netting. I would be in favor of putting netting down the lines. In today’s world, with social media and all that stuff, fans do not seem to pay attention.”
If fans are vulnerable to trajectories flying into the stands, players appear just as susceptible. Dugouts are placed in the most exposed locations and players are constantly on the look-out for foul balls and flying bats.
“My message to the fans is bring your glove,” said Diamondbacks infielder Chris Owings. “Sure, netting will help, but fans also have to pay attention. In the minors, I saw fans get hit with many foul balls and it’s not pretty. If anything, fans need to be aware at all times.”
RETURNING TO CHASE FIELD
Before Tuesday’s game, reliever Evan Marshall stopped by the Diamondbacks clubhouse. This was Marshall’s first public appearance after undergoing brain surgery.
Earlier this month, Marshall, pitching for Triple-A Reno, was struck on the right side of the head by a line drive off the bat of Jason Hagery of El Paso. Marshall suffered a fractured skull and immediately underwent surgery to relieve intra-cranial pressure. In addition, he suffered internal pressure inside the skull, disruption of brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid.
The injury was so serious, Marshall said, that his life was in danger. Rushed to two hospitals in El Paso and eventually to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Marshall remains in therapy and rehab. Still, he still retains the notion of returning to the mound.
“I think he will return, but probably not as quickly as he would like,” said Dr. Christina Nwasnica, director of rehabilitation at Barrow. “If he was a hockey or football player, the answered would definitely be no. Baseball is a little different, but he will definitely have to wear some protection.”
Prior to Tuesday’s game with the Cardinals, Marshall made the rounds in the clubhouse. Quickly, he drew a crowd of players, staff and the medical team. Meeting with reporters later, Marshall said received the best medicine in the clubhouse.
“This was a big day for me,” he said. “It was great therapy just to be back here and hang out with the guys again. Definitely uplifting and motivational.”
Marshall reported he has no post-concussion syndrome, retention of full range of motion, and no slurred speech. The forecast ahead, according to Dr. Nwasnica, is continuation of his rehab program at Barrow and closely chart progress throughout the up-coming off-season. For his part, Marshall expects to be in the clubhouse at Salt River next February and start, with his teammates, spring training.
Moving into September, manager Chip Hale says he has more starters than necessary. Going forward, the issue is finding spots and regular turns for a plethora of pitchers at his current disposal.
At this point, that may be difficult because right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, after a strong outing Monday against St. Louis, pushed his way into another start this Saturday at home against Oakland. That moved Randall Delgado to the bullpen, a location that Hale says Delgado is most valuable.
That also puts Jeremy Hellickson, currently on the disabled list, on target to regain his spot in the rotation, according to Hale, either Sept. 5 or 6 in Wrigley Field against the Cubs. As well, Hale discounted using six starters and will go with the traditional five for the foreseeable future.
Still in the mix is right-hander Archie Bradley. On Monday, the 22-year-old right-hander came off the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Reno. Hale indicated Bradley would have at least two starts with the Aces and, if all goes well, he could rejoin the club after September 1. That’s when major league rosters expand to 40 players. Already, Hale said right-hander Zack Godley will added to the Diamondbacks bullpen contingent after September 1.