Posted by: Bob Gorman | January 26, 2017

A Personal Tragedy

In the debate over whether or not to extend protective netting, those who oppose any additional nets love to cite figures in an attempt to show that the likelihood of being injured by a foul ball or bat is statistically small in comparison to the number attending MLB and MiLB games every season.  What is often lost in this argument is that real people are suffering real injuries, many of them life-altering.   It’s easy to ignore a problem that has no face, that is depersonalized by citing a bunch of numbers.  The bottom line is that no one should suffer an injury from a ball or bat, especially since the solution is so simple.

What follows is the story of one such tragedy.  It is a tale I hear all too often.  And it is one that never should have happened.

On August 6, 2016, my husband’s life changed forever…at a baseball game.  An event we never imagined could happen and took an instant to transpire had a life-altering effect on his wellbeing.

We were in attendance at a much anticipated Braves vs. Cardinals game at Busch Stadium.  The Braves/Cardinals series in St. Louis is an annual pilgrimage we make from Atlanta to watch the game with our friends- rival Cardinals fans.  We were seated in section 144, row E at the far right side, the 3rd and 4th seats in.  We were watching and paying close attention to the game when in the bottom of the 8th, Tommy Pham of the Cardinals hit a broken-bat foul ball into the stands in our section.  I felt something fly by my face and lift my hair and immediately knew what had happened.   My husband, Rick, was struck directly in his left eye by a foul ball traveling at great speed.  He reacted immediately by placing both hands over his eye.  Fans all around us began calling for help from the medics.  A gentleman who introduced himself as a surgeon was at our side immediately to assess Rick’s condition.  He urged my husband to remove his hands so he could see if there was any projectile imbedded in his eye.  As soon as Rick pulled his hands away and I saw the injury, I knew the gravity of the situation.  EMT’s responded within seconds it seems and as soon as they determined Rick had not lost consciousness and could walk out of the stadium, they quickly escorted us to a First Aid area located at section 147.  There they applied a temporary bandage and got Rick and I to an ambulance immediately.  We were taken to Barnes Jewish Hospital where the full extent of his injuries would be determined.

Between 9:00 p.m. on August 6th and 8:30 a.m. on August 7th, multiple examinations and a 4 ½ hour surgery took place.  Suffice it to say that the outcome was less than favorable.  Rick’s injuries included a ruptured globe, blow-out fracture of the orbital floor, broken zygomatic arch, broken temporal-mandibular joint, and lacerations.  In layman’s terms, his eyeball was flattened, bones in the eye socket were fractured, his cheekbone and jaw were broken, and he had deep cuts.  He would never see out of that eye again.

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In the days following the injury, he has been seen by more doctors than we can remember, including surgeons and specialists,  to determine if there was any chance of meaningful vision in the left eye or if it needs to be removed and replaced with a prosthetic eye.  Based on the current state of the eye, very low likelihood of any meaningful sight, and the risks involved with surgery, it was decided that Rick will not undergo any further surgeries.  He will remain sightless in the left eye.

He wears polycarbonate glasses now full time to protect his right eye.  The left eye socket is sunken and the bony abnormalities are apparent now that all the swelling has gone down.  He still has his eyeball and will keep it as long as it doesn’t shrink too much and as long as it doesn’t cause him pain.  He isn’t in pain now, thank goodness.  He has some discomfort and he wants to rub the eye constantly.  The eye itself is pretty clouded over, but when he has his glasses on it isn’t very noticeable.

He functions well but there are things that are bothersome…large crowds where he  can’t see people approaching from the left, hand-eye coordination for close up work.  He is a tinkerer and is working on refinishing a boat and this is challenging.

You know before Rick’s accident I never gave this much thought.  Now it’s so obvious.  But this is the reason there is no fan outcry for more netting.  The public doesn’t know about it.  I think if more fans saw the faces of those injured or the actual injuries they might actually think twice about where they sit at the ball park.

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Responses

  1. Rick is my former boss (I am now retired) and worked for him almost 25 years. He is a very outgoing person and loved being with people. I really enjoyed working for him.
    Now that the 2017 baseball season is about to start, I would suggest that you contact the Dr. Oz show to try to get this and other baseball fan injury stories on TV. People will see this type of injury at ballgames, but few know the complete consequences/outcomes of the injuries. People just need to know what can happen and how bad the injury can be at a simple baseball game.

    • Thanks, Harold. I was hoping that by putting a face on these type of injuries, folks might begin to understand the serious nature of the damage that can be caused by balls and bats entering the stands.

  2. While being hit is horrible, the fact remains that most fans, I estimate about 1500 PER GAME (see FoulBallz[dot]com) are on their phones. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, there IS enough response time to duck at least. Another point lost by pro-netters is that golf has more fan deaths each YEAR than baseball. In fact, in context, baesball is one of the safest spectator games. 1000s have died at soccer games. 100s have died at car races–despite the fence protection! And 12 spectators have died since the inception of the Tour de France. As such, there’s a bloated conception that baseball is dangerous.

    A simple fix? Pay attention OR just don’t sit in the most highly likely places for fouls. It’s THAT simple. I sit my kids in the OF seats and upper decks for THEIR safety. It’s common sense.

    With the Cleveland Indians win–a JURY, not a judge, found the team NOT responsible for the injury–the added netting issue is now dead. The teams now extending netting are those contractually obligated to finish the job, the teams that already planned to extend. Now, though, I doubt any other teams will add netting.

    • First, I agree with you that people should stay off their cell phones while the game is in progress. Having said that, a couple of observations. First, foul ball injuries predate cell phones by 150 years. Cell phones did not create the problem, they are just one more distraction that can lead to injury. Second, ballparks are in part responsible for this growing phenomenon because they encourage the use of cell phones. I regularly attend games at a local minor park where free wifi is provided and fans are prompted to tweet responses to contest questions and to send in selfies of themselves at the ballpark. Now how stupid is that!

      I disagree with your comment about response time. The study that HBO Sports did in conjunction with Washington State University a year ago was very reveling. Obviously, the closer you are to the batter, the less time you have to react. In addition, not everyone responds in the same way. Some react slowly and some folks freeze when an object is hurling toward them. Are they to be blamed for this type of reaction? In addition, even the slightest distraction – taking a bite from a hot dog, sipping a beer, turning your head to respond to the person sitting next to you – can lead to tragic results. And how realistic is it to expect spectators to pay attention every second of a game? Do you? I know I don’t, and I know well the dangers of the game! It’s simply unreasonable to think that folks will pay attention 100 percent of the time.

      I don’t get the point you are trying to make about other sports being dangerous as well. What does that have to do with baseball? Balls and bats enter the stands on a regular basis and they pose a serious threat of injury. Baseball needs to do a better job in protecting fans. What happens in other sports is immaterial.

      I really don’t understand what the big deal is about extended netting. What, you may not get a foul ball or score an autograph because of the nets? So what. Fan safety trumps your desire for a foul ball or autograph. And the type of netting used today is really quite unobtrusive. I have season tickets to the local minor league team and my seats are about 20 rows back between third and home. I love the perspective of the game from those seats, which is why I sit there. It’s a new ballpark and for the first two years these seats were not protected by netting. It was not uncommon for me to dodge a screaming line drive or for a foul to go crashing into the food kiosks along the concourse. A year ago they put up extended netting. For about one inning, I was aware of the net, but after that it was invisible to me. And now I don’t have to fear for my safety.

      You are correct, the fix is simple. Extend the netting.

    • A simple fix? Make ballparks safer so these injuries don’t happen. How to do that? Extend the protective netting. 9 MLB teams have done so to date, including both teams who witnessed Mr Cusick”s terrible injury, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. They did the right thing, even if it is too late for Mr. Cusick. Hopefully, the League will soon require the 21 other teams to follow suit, or better yet, those teams will just do it on their own. If nets had been up, this injury (and so many others) would never have happened.

      Blaming the victims for their injuries isn’t the answer. “He should have paid better attention.” “He shouldn’t have sat there.” These excuses, thrown out anonymously, really just blame Mr. Cusick for his injury. Not very nice or empathetic. Fortunately, most baseball fans do not hold such heartless views. In fact, Marist College did a nationwide poll of baseball fans last year and found 54% support additional netting. 77% of fans with kids support them. And 66% said it would not affect their enjoyment of the game. They are the true fans. They get it.

      Baseball should be treated like any other business that operates a dangerous facility, no better or worse. If a government inspector were to find a condition in any other business that is this dangerous, they would be shut down until the condition is fixed. MLB ballparks should have to do the same thing. The reason the New York City Council is considering legislation to require additional protective netting is because the New York teams have a dangerous condition in their ballparks, and they have failed to address the danger. If the teams do not fix them on their own, then it should not be surprising that our elected officials in the name of public health and safety will require them to.

      Finally, as for the jury decision in Cleveland Indians case. The jury verdict does nothing to settle the issue as a legal matter or as a matter of public policy. It’s one jury’s findings in one set of circumstances.There will be other cases, and other juries. In any event, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in this case that assumption of risk was not a valid defense by the Indians. That is why the case went back to the trial court to be heard by this jury. In Ohio, these cases can continue to be brought against the Indians or the Reds, and juries can decide each situation on the facts in each case. If MLB doesn’t fix this dangerous situation, no doubt there will be many others.

      • Just returned from the opening games at the Braves’ new ballpark, SunTrust Park. They extended the netting to the far ends of the dugouts, thus giving fans greater protection. And the nets are nearly invisible. It’s long past time for MLB and MiLB to put fan safety first.


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