Commentary: A Few Takeaways from the Almora Foul Ball Incident

by - Columnist -
Erik Williams - USA Today Sports
Erik Williams - USA Today Sports

I, like most, watched in horror, wondering the fate of the child struck by a foul ball which had left Albert Almora Jr.’s bat on Thursday night in Houston. As a father, I felt for the family, the child, and Almora; as a former paramedic, I initially feared the worst. Any time that a camera doesn’t show what’s happening, it usually isn’t good news, and for a few moments last night, it was about as bad as it could get.

I never did hear the exit velocity of the ball, but I can only surmise that it left the bat at a speed of 100 mph+. Milliseconds before anything was known of an injury, Jim Deshaies said, under his breath, “Look out folks,” and the next thing anyone knew, the camera was trained on Almora, who was clutching his hands over his head and screaming what sounded like, “God!”

Social media flooded almost immediately with news of the incident, and the few updates that were posted by fans were encouraging, as they relayed the girl had been taken to the ER but was conscious and crying. For those who aren’t parents yet, the sound of an injured child crying is about the best sound you can hear (you’ll understand one day). MLB has removed video of the incident on some accounts on social-media, undoubtedly over sensitivity to those directly involved, but Good Morning America weighed in on the situation this morning.

The raw emotion exhibited by Almora was heartbreaking and saddening, but in some strange way it seemed to make him more tangible to the average American; more like an Average Joe than an untouchable star, more like the guy next door. I never doubted that he had a caring heart, or that he was a concerned parent with the same emotions that I have- not for a minute- but even I felt somehow closer to him in some weird way. And much like him, my heart was also in my throat.

He’s vowed to visit the child, he’s promised to talk to the parents, and he’s vowed to have a bond with them for life. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he contemplated flying out late last night so that he could offer support to the family, and I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that he pays the kid’s hospital bill.

So, what, if anything, has anybody learned from this incident? Unfortunately, probably not enough.

My friend and colleague, Dan Marich, wrote a commentary this morning about what he viewed as the solution to the problem, but as usual, we differ in opinion on about 2/3 of it.

Dan points out that the netting needs to be extended around certain areas in the ballpark, and to that, I’d agree, but Dan goes on to rant about cell phone usage and having kids pay closer attention at games- huh? Listen, Captain Obvious, your advice to MLB and the Parenting Association of America, while seemingly sound on the surface, also makes absolutely no sense. I’m not sure that you’ve noticed, but about 1 in 2 kids seem to have some attention deficit issue these days, and the last time I checked, even the most well-adjusted four-year-old wasn’t exactly equipped to pay attention to a 3-4 hour ball game.

Stopping these injuries from occurring won’t be easy. People don’t want a barrier between them and the game, and for those that do, plenty of “safe-seats” are available. I don’t disagree that the nets should be extended, but to go from the plate to the foul pole, as Mr. Marich suggests, is ludicrous. While you can’t discriminate over who buys a ticket for which seat, I do think MLB should make it a requirement that no small children are allowed to sit within the first 15-20 rows, if in an unprotected area. It’s all most parents can do to watch their child(ren) at home effectively, much less at a ballpark filled with 40,000 people and 100 mph line drives.

While I wouldn’t disagree that spending $400.00 on a pair of tickets so that you can play on Facebook with your phone isn’t a ridiculous waste of time and money (not to mention the waste a good ballgame), you’re not going to change it, Dan. People believe they’d perish without their phones, and who would they be among their friends if they could use 16 different forms of social media to convey the almighty “Look at me” message? So much for MLB’s disclaimer that goes something like, “Any broadcast, recording or retransmission of this game without the express written consent of MLB is prohibited.”

No matter the level of protection, injuries will always occur, whether due to negligence, distraction, or, in some cases, stupidity. NASCAR takes every possible step to protect its fans from cars whirling around a track at 200 mph (via the use of reinforced steel fencing known as a catch-fence), and even that doesn’t always stop the unthinkable from happening.

In closing, it’s one thing for an allegedly informed adult to choose not to pay attention to a game which they know carries inherent dangers, but let’s be a little more careful in subjecting the unknowing kids to such threat. I’m not suggesting that her parents were in any way negligent, as the odds of that happening are literally about 1 in 40,000, but it does happen- all too frequently. I wish that little girl well, and I certainly hope MLB takes measures to protect the kids who attend the games.

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