Gail Payne's last name lends itself to many interpretations. You could say she doesn't just want to wind up in any, or if you ask Major League Baseball they might say she is being one. According to the back of my ticket stub, flying foul balls and wayward shards of broken bats are an understood part of the game and if I am hit by one it's my problem. However, Gail has sued MLB begging to differ and demanding more dynamic netting -- not just on behalf of Section 211 at the O.co but for every fan in every section of every stadium.
I am of different minds on this issue, which probably speaks to my having multiple personalities. Interestingly, none of my personalities will speak to each other and in fact it's arguably inaccurate to characterize myself as having multiple personalities when many insist I don't have even one. Keep reading, as my analysis of Gail's lawsuit only gets more and more on task.
First and foremost, it is difficult not to be sympathetic to Gail's concerns when you see an incident like the one at Fenway Park in early June, when a shard of Brett Lawrie's broken bat flew into the stands and left a fan in critical condition. However, no ballpark has less netting than Fenway so if MLB simply brought each park up to the best current standard it would prevent incidents like this one. Are incidents like this too much of an exception to warrant a change in policy, or are they too much of a rule to warrant inviting the next tragedy?
At spring training this past March, for one of the away games I was seated directly over the third base dugout and the protective netting did not extend that far down the third base line. I quickly gauged that if a left-handed batter poked one foul right at me -- which is not at all uncommon -- and I was not highly attentive, I could be in real trouble. I'm not talking about ignoring the game, either; I could have been turning to say something to the person next to me as one random pitch was thrown and been truly taken out by a foul ball. That's scary and believe me I kept very aware of whether each batter was LH or RH as I chose my levels of full attention.
On the flip side, though, there is a growing trend of abrogating responsibility for staying safe. I can understand wanting netting over the third base dugout more than I can get behind demanding netting down near the bullpen where you really do have ample reaction time. Sometimes fans are blindsided by foul balls because they are sitting at the game staring at their phone. Does it make me a bad person that I actively root for them to get creamed by foul balls? Obviously yes.
"You should have had netting to protect me!!!"
"You should try watching the game you paid to watch. You can waste your life staring at your phone in the privacy of your own bedroom, where foul balls rarely travel."
But I digress, yet again.
What's interesting to me is that this lawsuit comes from a fan in section 211. Either Gail is altruistic and is fighting for those more vulnerable than she is, or else she is a Guinness Book of World Records candidate for slowest reflexes. And is fighting for netting that is at least 20 Altuves high and 7 Butlers wide. There's "common sense protective netting" and there's "bubble wrap". Going to a game can be risky, beginning with leaving your car in the BART parking lot, continuing with eating what passes for food at the Oakland Coliseum, and ending with merging freeway traffic in which 17 drunk drivers are fighting to join 2 lanes.
So what exactly should MLB be required to do as a basic measure of safety from the known hazard of broken bats and foul balls flying at god's speed without warning, but without insulating the inattentive, or just the occasional unfortunate "wrong place, wrong time" fan, from accepting the responsibility of taking care and taking risks?
Gail thinks she knows the answer, and the courts will soon offer their opinion. What's yours?