Two years ago when she still lived in the Phoenix area, Las Vegas resident Liz Fogg scored some of those primo tickets to a Diamondbacks game the local disc jockeys give away to the 13th caller.
These seats were in the 12th row behind the dugout.
Fogg said she was only a casual baseball fan. But she had a girlfriend from Toronto, and the Diamondbacks were playing the Blue Jays. A Girls Night Out was planned at Chase Field on Sept. 3, 2013.
The girls were having a good time on their night out.
Then in the top of the second, Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays (he played briefly for the 51s in 2010) let a bat slip from his hands. It went flying over the dugout and scything into the crowd.
The bat narrowly missed small children before smashing into Liz Fogg’s face, breaking her orbital bone and causing other injuries from which she has yet to recover physically, financially and emotionally.
“I never thought I would leave a baseball game in an ambulance,” she said.
Because more than 1,700 spectators are injured by foul balls (and bats lacking pine tar) every season, a class-action lawsuit recently was filed charging MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and his office with negligence and other legal stuff.
The lawsuit was filed by baseball season-ticket holders, so Fogg cannot benefit from a judgment, should there be one. Based on what it says on the back of baseball tickets in a very small font — that baseball fans, like boxers, should protect themselves at all times — it’s highly doubtful a judge will find in the fans’ favor.
But when a tire goes into the crowd at a NASCAR race and spectators are injured, NASCAR and its tracks almost always respond immediately by erecting taller debris fences or affixing gizmos to the cars that greatly reduce the chance of tires flying into the crowd at the next race.
That’s why Fogg is lending her name to the lawsuit and telling her story.
She wants baseball to be like NASCAR instead of dragging its feet like Billy Butler going from first base to third on a single. She wants the home plate netting extended at least from dugout to dugout. Like they do in Japan. Like they do behind the nets at hockey games, so another spectator doesn’t get killed by a flying puck.
51s president Don Logan said he thinks a bat going into the stands is more of a freak accident. He said this in June after an incident at Fenway Park, where another woman who also was sitting behind the dugout was severely injured when a bat went flying. Logan added that he cringes every time a foul ball goes into the stands.
“But at what point does the amount of netting you have become unreasonable and take away from watching the game?” he said.
A lot of fans who work for companies that pay a home run king’s ransom for tickets close to the field probably would agree. Were they to be hit in the face by Edwin Encarnacion’s bat, they might change their mind.
Liz Fogg is a 38-year-old single mother who has served in the U.S. Army and, having lost two brothers to spinal muscular atrophy, has done a lot of charitable work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. More recently, she has worked behind the scenes for the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.
After Encarnacion’s bat turned her face into a cantaloupe, she wrote a blog about how it changed her life. Some respondents were sympathetic. Others said instead of talking to her girlfriends, she should have been paying closer attention to the game.
“I got massacred,” she said during our telephone chat.
My response to that: Ballplayers are paid huge sums of cash to pay close attention to the game, and how many times have you seen an outfielder run off the field or flip the ball to a fan, thinking it was three outs when it was two?
Back in baseball’s low-definition days, it also can be assumed that Herb Score was paying close attention when Gil McDougald smacked one of his pitches right back at him, shattering multiple facial bones. Score would pitch again, but he was never the same.
It can be assumed Tony Conigliaro was paying close attention when he was beaned by Jack Hamilton in 1967. Tony C. was able to come back, too, but he was never the same, either.
If ballplayers with finely tuned reflexes can’t dodge baseballs traveling at high rates of speed, then what chance does a fan sitting behind the dugout have when one, or a bat, comes flying into the seats?
Sometimes, not much of one.
The other day I was watching a Cubs-Pirates game on TV, when a foul ball trickled toward the dugout. There was a screen in front of the dugout and a thick pad on top, protecting those inside.
Behind the dugout, a beer vendor was pouring cold ones. He had his back to home plate, obscuring the vision of spectators seated in the primo seats that disc jockeys give away to the 13th caller.
Unlike the players in the dugout, there was no screen or pad protecting fans seated behind it.
A few pitches later, the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo turned on one, sending a liner whistling into the stands not far from where the beer vendor had been pouring cold ones. The announcers said it appeared the ball might have struck a small child.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him: @ronkantowski