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Dangerous Practices

Paul Steinbach Headshot

It's not often that batting practice makes headlines three times in one month, including twice in the past week.

A three-year-old girl was scheduled to undergo surgery this morning at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles after her skull was fractured Monday by a hooking line drive off the bat of Russell Martin during batting practice at Dodger Stadium. Upon impact, the child fell limp and unconscious. "As soon as it hit, I heard the sound," Martin told MLB.com. "I knew it wasn't a good thing."

Over the weekend, the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League announced that in protest of the oil spill plaguing the Gulf of Mexico, the team will refer to batting practice as hitting rehearsal, thus avoiding the acronym BP shared with British Petroleum, the company whose defective rig represents the epicenter of the ongoing environmental disaster. The Manatees, whose namesake is the endangered sea cow, are the Single-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Last month, we learned that a fan who had fallen 14 feet while trying to retrieve a foul ball during batting practice April 25 at Milwaukee's Miller Park had died from his head injuries.

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The injuries to the three-year-old in Los Angeles were not believed to be life threatening, but her ordeal underscores the need for fans to be alert at the ballpark, even when a cage surrounds home plate during batting practice. Focus must be heightened still further during actual games. The fine print on tickets and the "Beware of Flying Balls and Bats" signs scattered around stadiums are enough to protect teams from liability, but spectators are on their own when it comes to managing their own gameday risk.

As I watched the Brewers take St. Louis into extra innings on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, I was struck by the background sight of one dad standing in the first or second row with a small child in his arms, apparently sleeping against his shoulder. What was that dad doing with such a young tot so close to the field or, for that matter, anywhere in a ballpark after 10 p.m.?

I occasionally sit 10 rows up from the Brewers on-deck circle at Miller Park, just outside the reach of the screen behind home plate. If a batter were to foul off a pitch in my direction, I'd have absolutely no chance. I've never sat that close with my kids, ages 9 and 8, and to take a toddler down there, to me, endangers the child unnecessarily.

An admittedly shaken Martin has pledged to sign off on the unnamed three-year-old's hospital bill. That's a souvenir that no child should ever have to collect.

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