LAST FRIDAY was, in most ways, one of the better days of Jonathan Keane's life. To celebrate his 40th birthday, Keane—along with two of his four golf-mad younger brothers and their father, Tom—teed off at Bethpage Black at 7:54 a.m., having camped out for 14 hours to secure their first tee time on the legendary Farmingdale, N.Y., course. Keane shot a 96. "He's got three little kids, so he doesn't have much time for golf these days," says his dad. His thoughts also kept straying to an incident that had happened two days earlier and 35 miles west, at Yankee Stadium.
There, New York third baseman Todd Frazier smacked a 105-mph foul ball in the fifth inning of a matinee against the Twins. The liner struck a two-year-old girl, who was sitting with her family just past the third base dugout, in the face. Details about the girl's condition remain scarce, but the Keanes could imagine the pain and fear she and her family were experiencing. On Aug. 7, 1982, those feelings were theirs.
That day Tom drove Jonathan, then four, and his two-year-old brother from Greenland, N.H., to Fenway Park. The Keanes had great seats behind the first base dugout. In the fourth inning Red Sox second baseman Dave Stapleton hit a foul screamer. The next thing Tom knew, Jonathan was down.
That incident is best remembered for the actions of Jim Rice. He sprinted out of the dugout, scooped up Jonathan and rushed him into the Sox' clubhouse for treatment and then transport to Boston Children's Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to relieve pressure caused by swelling in his brain. The moment was immortalized by an image of Rice, the future Hall of Famer, cradling the bleeding child. "Jim Rice likely saved Jonathan's life," says Tom.
Jonathan spent a terrifying five days in the hospital but made a full recovery. He now runs customer service for a tech company in Raleigh and has only a light scar above his left eye. Still, that day marked his life. "The odds are so small," says Jonathan, "but the impact when it happens is so dramatic."
In fact, the odds aren't that small. This is believed to be the third serious foul-ball-related injury suffered by a fan at Yankee Stadium this season, and a 2014 Bloomberg study estimated that 1,750 fans are hurt by batted balls in major league ballparks every year. The solution seems obvious: Extend the netting beyond home plate past both dugouts. Yet MLB, which does warn its fans on tickets and signs in ballparks of the danger they face, has been wary of mandating it, lest it deprive its highest-paying customers of unimpeded sight lines and the thrill of taking home a hard-won souvenir.
Just 10 clubs currently have such netting, though last week four more said they would expand theirs. "We will redouble our efforts on this important issue," commissioner Rob Manfred says. Players appear to be virtually unanimous in wanting more extensive protection. "I don't care about the damn view of the fan," says Brian Dozier of the Twins, who watched from second base as the girl was struck. "It's all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach."
For a long time Jonathan—who has no memory of that day in 1982—has declined to advocate for expanded netting. His feelings have changed, not only because of last week's incident but also because he is now a father himself and has taken his five-year-old son to several minor league games. "It has become more real to me, knowing how fragile he is at that age," he says. "If you'd asked me five years ago, I think I'd probably have been more neutral. Having kids makes nets seem like a good idea."
It is, even 35 years too late. Players shouldn't have to face the guilt of having inadvertently harmed a child. And all families ought to drive home from the park intact and with warm memories—even if they leave without a souvenir foul ball.
"It has become more real to me, knowing how fragile [kids are] at that age," says Keane.
SHOULD MLB TEAMS EXTEND NETTING TO PROTECT YOUNG FANS?
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