One of the lasting images of the Major League Baseball season so far is the horrified reaction of Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. after a foul ball off his bat sent a young girl to the hospital last Wednesday in Houston.
"Prayers right now," a still shaken Almora said in the clubhouse afterward. "That's really all I can control."
MLB has tried to control the risks inherent to attending games. Following recommendations from the league office, all 30 teams had expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts by the start of the 2018 season after several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017. The injury involving the girl at Houston's Minute Made Park has renewed debate over whether protections should extend down the foul lines. Amora, in his locker room moment of remorse, stated, "I want to put a net around the whole stadium."
But MLB commissioner Paul Manfred was not willing to go that far Tuesday. Not yet. Not mid-season, anyway.
"It's very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year, because they really are structural issues," Manfred said, as reported by the Associated Press. "But because safety is so important, I'm sure that conversation will begin and continue into the offseason."
The shock of last week's incident even reverberated to the collegiate level.
"Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety," Manfred said. "If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with 'beyond the dugout,' I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don't want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward."