Spectator Safety Top Priority of HB 479

Legislation in the Ohio House would require pole-to-pole safety netting in Ohio ballparks by the start of the 2021 season. The bill was introduced in response to  serious injury to spectators at Major and Minor League Baseball games.

Some ballparks are being proactive and have already extended or have plans to extend their protective netting.  House Bill 479  would make this mandatory for the ones that haven’t taken the initiative.

“Baseball players are getting bigger and stronger each year, while fans are sitting closer to the action,” said Representative Rick Perales ( R-Beavercreek) who introduced the bill along with Representative  John Patterson  (D-Jefferson).

A baseball can be hit in excess of 100 mph by top batters 

“There have been a number of incidents in Ohio and around the country with people being seriously injured, sometimes killed, with foul balls and bats landing in the lower levels of the stadium,” said Perales. 

“Many professional groups have taken it upon themselves to install netting as a safeguard,” Perales added. “This bill is simply requiring it of all Ohio professional teams.”

Patterson got involved with the issue when a constituent reached out to him with concerns about safety in ballparks. 

The constituent, Dina Simpson, 46, was permanently blinded in one eye after being struck in the head with a line drive. Simpson was sitting with her family at a Lake County Captains game, a Single A Farm Club for the Cleveland Indians.

Simpson has been pushing for legislation to require netting since 2017 when the injury occurred. 

“I couldn’t say no,” said Patterson. “This just makes sense.”

It just so happened that, prior to being a legislator, Patterson’s dream was to be a college baseball coach. Incidentally, he said, Urban Meyer used to play for him on a American Legion team years ago.

“Our job as Ohio lawmakers is to protect Ohioans,” said Patterson. “Fans have been moved closer to the action over the years and pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Then there are distractions, mainly cell phones, and that’s a mix for tragedy.”

Patterson noted that the safety netting would be retractable. Once a game begins, however, the fans would need to be protected. 

Currently, many ball fields have safety netting in the dugout areas. The law would require netting along the first and third baselines, from the end of the dugout to the outfield foul poles. The outfield would not require netting.

Perales said that it has yet to be decided which legislative committee will be looking at specifics on the bill.

“We wanted to get this conversation started,” said the lawmaker. “I would think that it is something that everyone would get behind due to fan safety.”

Sponsors say bill will have support

“We will have interested party meetings with representatives from the ball teams,” added Perales. “We will try to come up with a good design.”

“My colleagues in the House and the Senate are always conscious of protecting Ohioans,” said Perales. “That’s one of our missions, protecting the citizens of Ohio, their safety. That’s one of the cornerstones of our government. I think that they would support a very rational logical approach that works for everybody.”

Perales said he doesn’t believe the cost of installing the required safety netting would impact Ohio’s professional ball teams, as the expense would not be excessive.

Injuries and death at ballparks 

Ballpark injuries range from vision loss to concussions. Several deaths have been reported nationwide and in Ohio.  Most of the injuries have occurred in the foul-ball zone, but some have also taken place during batting practice and home-run blasts, according to reports. 

In December, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said all 30 MLB teams would extend their safety netting. Manfred said the changes would be made for the 2020 season. The netting will extend all the way to the foul poles in some parks. In others, it will go substantially beyond the far end of the dugout, the commissioner said. 

Death at the Ballpark, the book

Bob Gorman, author of “Death at the Ballpark,”  said the number of fan injuries is likely much higher than reports show. 

“I think the number is a lot higher than people realize. I think the teams know it,” said Gorman, whose book is a comprehensive history of fatalities at ballparks. “I think they’ve intentionally downplayed it.”

“The physics of getting struck with a baseball can be brutal. Baseballs are hard, weigh about five ounces and are nine inches around, roughly the size of a fist. And in the major leagues, they can fly off the bat of the best hitters at more than 100 miles an hour. At that speed, they can strike a fan about a second after leaving the bat,” Gorman said in his book.