Baseball Fan Injured by Foul Ball Promised a "Safer Seat" Next Time

Last week, Stephanie Wapenski, a Red Sox fan from Massachusetts, received a bouquet of flowers from the baseball team that she loves. The flowers came with a promise of a safer seat at an upcoming ball game. Last Friday night, Stephanie and her fiancée attended the Red Sox-Yankees match at Fenway Stadium. They sat along the third base line, as they had done just a year earlier, when Stephanie’s fiancée, a Yankees fan, proposed to her at a game. However, the memories of this ball game would be anything but sweet.

During the fifth inning, Yankees’ shortstop Didi Gregorius hit a foul ball that shot into the stands, striking Stephanie between the eyes. “It just came right at me before I could think or react,” Stephanie told CBS Boston. While she was paying close attention to the game, Stephanie insists that there was no time to react to avoid the foul ball hurling towards her. “It was like it knew who I was and had a vendetta,” she told The Boston Globe.

Stephanie suffered a massive headache after being struck in the face and was forced to get three-dozen stitches along her forehead to close the gash. She is currently recovering at home.

Sadly, Stephanie’s experience is not an isolated one. Just last month, Tonya Carpenter, another Red Sox fan, sustained life-threatening injuries after shrapnel from a broken baseball bat flew into the stands at Fenway Park, striking her in the head while her young son sat next to her and watched the life-changing event unfold. Tonya was forced to undergo surgery for her head injuries and was recently released to a rehabilitation facility where she will start the long road to recovery.

So why must baseball fans wait to be struck by a wayward baseball or shrapnel from a broken bat before receiving the promise of a “safer seat” at a ballpark? This is the question that Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred must stop avoiding.

Some 1,750 baseball spectators are hurt each year by wayward baseballs hurled into the stands. It takes one of these balls just 1.07 seconds to travel 141 feet. And despite the life-altering injuries which baseball fans at most MLB ballparks are exposed to, Commissioner Manfred remains unwilling to act to ensure their safety. “I don’t like to be reactive,” he said in a recent meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “Obviously, we had a very serious injury. It concerns us. But making a major change in the game in a reactive mode I believe is a mistake.”

“MLB’s diehard fans deserve better from the commissioner,” said Bob Hilliard, Founding Partner at Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, who recently filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of MLB season pass holders, in an effort to force MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to adopt increased safety measures at all ballparks, including extended safety nets along the foul line. “More than a thousand spectators every year – including children – suffer horrific and preventable injuries, such as blindness, skull fractures, severe concussions and brain hemorrhages by errant balls, mostly fouls, at MLB games – twice every three games.”

Yet despite the severity of the looming risks at each game, Commissioner Manfred is reticent to act to ensure the safety of all baseball fans at MLB ballparks across the country, and instead chooses a wait-and-see approach. “I think the most likely course for us is that the evaluation will continue this season and whatever change, if we decide to make one, will be something that will be a new regulation applicable to the clubs for next year,” he recently stated.

However, it is unclear what Mr. Manfred feels compelled to evaluate before acting. Baseball fans are faced with the risk of bodily injuries and death due to wayward baseballs and shrapnel from broken bats that fly into the stands, now. Baseball fans are being injured at alarming rates, now. The League has an obligation to act to ensure the safety of all baseball fans, now.

“This is a needless risk,” said Mr. Hilliard. “Extending the nets will, as a fact, save lives.”

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