After ball hits baby in face, a look at how NJ ballparks keep fans safe
Foul balls. Errant bats. High-speed home runs.
Depending on your seats, any of these could be headed straight for your head while watching a live baseball game.
A near tragedy played out last Wednesday when a baby was hit in the eye by a foul ball during a Sussex County Miners game at Skylands Stadium.
The 11-month-old has since been released from the hospital.
While there's no foolproof plan to keep every fan protected during game time — short of surrounding the entire stadium bowl with netting — adult league baseball parks in New Jersey have been implementing additional safety measures over the years to reduce the overall risk of injury.
Netting behind home plate, extended towards the dugout areas on both sides, doesn't always do the trick. And it only protects a fraction of the spectators.
In the past year, netting at Arm & Hammer Park, home of the Trenton Thunder, was added to the concourse area as extra security for unsuspecting fans headed to the restroom or grabbing food, according to team public relations manager to Jon Mozes.
"It's something that we see probably every year — once, two or three times, someone gets hit by a foul ball or a bat that's going into the crowd," Mozes said. "It's the type of situation where everybody sort of just holds their breath and you hope it wasn't a direct hit."
On the back of every game ticket, fans are advised to stay alert for foul balls and other items leaving the field. Signs are posted throughout the ballpark with a similar message, and it's part of the pregame safety announcement.
Steve Kalafer, chairman of the Somerset Patriots, said fans regularly get hit by balls at their Bridgewater stadium, but there have been "no tragedies" over the years.
As a courtesy to fans with kids who would benefit from extra protection, the team offers to exchange seats so they can sit behind the home-plate netting, Kalafer said.
"If there are fans that need that extra level of security, we keep that section open at all times," he said.
As a fan, you can help protect yourself by paying attention to the live action, both Kalafer and Mozes said.
"Thirty years ago in baseball, people were not distracted by phones and other electronic devices," Kalafer said. "But let me make it very clear — I'm not blaming the fans."
While the ballpark is "completely compliant with state and federal law" regarding safety procedures, Kalafer said, the organization is considering extended netting areas in the future.
The Patriots' home, TD Bank Ballpark, is hosting the Atlantic League all-star game Wednesday evening.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.