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Will fan injury cause MLB/MiLB policy changes?

Boston Red SoxA woman struck by a shattered baseball bat at Fenway Park remains in serious condition as the issue of how much protection MLB teams should offer fans rises to a national level once again.

Tonya Carpenter, 44, of Paxton, Mass., was injured by a shattered bat from Brett Lawrie of the Oakland Athletics. She was sitting in Dugout Section seats, added 13 years ago during Fenway Park’s multiyear renovation. These seats are close to the action — which fans love — but they also carry some level of risk. The Red Sox made the decision not to extend netting to these new seats after fan polls.

Legally, MLB and MiLB rely on the language on the back of tickets and on signs throughout the ballpark saying that fans assume all risk when they enter the ballpark. Though the language has been challenged over the years, in the end it’s been upheld, even in cases where patrons have been struck by a baseball on the concourse and away from the action. And MLB has been repeatedly approached about the issue, only to be rebuffed by owners unwilling to shell out the relatively minor cost of more netting. Today’s nets are stronger and lighter than ever before and present less of a distraction to fans, and even though nets may not test particularly well in focus groups, they may prove to be necessary given how the ballpark experience creeps closer and closer to the plate. From the Boston Globe:

Major League Baseball issued a more detailed statement, expressing “the utmost concern” for the victim.

“We will continue to keep her and her family in our thoughts and prayers. We appreciate the efforts of the Red Sox, the first responders, the Boston Police Department and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,” said the MLB statement, which was sent by spokesman Mike Teevan. “Fan safety is our foremost goal for all those who choose to support our game by visiting our ballparks and we will always strive for that experience to be safe and fan-friendly.”

The sight of the wooden bat hurtling into the crowd on a cool June evening stunned fans, many of whom rushed to assist Carpenter and her son.

Don’t expect this issue to go away any time soon. Expanded ballpark netting is a relatively cheap way to buy lots of good publicity.

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