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Player Hit by Baseball Is Taken Off Life Support

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Julius Riofrir, the 17-year-old who was hit by a baseball on Sunday, died early Tuesday morning after he was removed from a life-support system.

Riofrir, the eldest son of Emmanuel and Julie Riofrir of Glendale, had been declared brain-dead Monday due to a severe head injury.

Family members, who opted to keep him alive until organ donation arrangements could be made, said goodbye to him at about 12:30 a.m. when his ventilator was shut off, said family members and Steve Willis, spokesman for Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

A small group of friends and coaches was also present, said Fred Lingad, Riofrir’s American Legion baseball team coach, who was among them.

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Later in the morning, doctors removed Riofrir’s liver and kidneys for the Regional Organ Procurement Agency of Southern California, which had arranged for their transplant.

Names of recipients are kept confidential, but all are patients who have been waiting for transplants in hospitals in the Los Angeles area, said Willis.

Riofrir, the fifth young athlete to die in a sports accident in the last year in Southern California, was pitching to Fernando Rios, 18, in a batting cage at Stengel Field in Glendale just before an American Legion game Sunday evening.

Rios hit a low line drive to the left, according to Glendale police. The ball apparently ricocheted off the side of the batting cage, clearing the L-shaped screen which protected Riofrir, and struck him in the temple.

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He collapsed at the scene, and was placed on a ventilator as soon as he arrived at the hospital. Attempts to treat the swelling in his brain with medication were unsuccessful, doctors said.

The batting cage, a large, rectangular frame enclosed by chain-link fencing, was built several years ago by the Glendale city parks department for use by Glendale Community College, and other leagues that reserve the fields, said city parks director Nello Iacono.

Lingad and other coaches believe, based on the angle of the line drive Rios described, that the ball hit a concrete footing around the dirt floor of the batting cage.

The ground-level concrete, which holds the chain-link fence posts, has become more exposed over the years, perhaps from rain washing some of the dirt away, according to Glendale Community College baseball Coach Denny Barrett. It now juts four inches or so above the ground, he said.

Netting inside the cage suspended at a distance of a foot or two from the sides is supposed to slow down balls before they can ricochet off the concrete or sides.

But the nets in the cage tend to shift in the wind, Barrett said. And on Monday, the bottom of the netting was resting against the concrete in several places, and so would not have slowed a ball headed that way.

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Saul Ickovitz, owner of Baseball City, a baseball school in Agoura Hills, said nets should be “two or three feet from the sides [of a cage], even at the bottom. . . . The idea is not to have anything ricochet, and if the net is inside the cage, the balls just roll off.”

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A spokesman for Memphis Net and Twine, a company that makes baseball-cage nets, agreed: A batting cage “cannot have a hard surface,” he said. “We tell people in putting nets up they should allow at least one foot on each side.”

Iacono said the city is awaiting the results of the police investigation to decide what to do. The cage has been locked in the meantime.

Barrett said the protruding concrete and swaying nets should be fixed before the cage is used again, and GCC pitchers may be required to wear helmets in the future. “Obviously, when you look at it now, you can see there has to be a change,” he said.

Lingad, who calls the incident a freak accident, said Tuesday that he, too, sees problems with the cage. “The concrete on the side--that is not right,” he said. But, he added, “any time where you are in a position where balls and bats are flying, something could happen.”

Lingad said Riofrir’s team, which hasn’t played since the accident, will resume its season on Saturday.

The team met Tuesday with Riofrir’s sister Janssen, who told players that, “being Julius, he would want us to continue playing,” said Lingad. “She told us to continue playing and to keep the spirit with us.”

The team will wear armbands with Riofrir’s number, 8, on their uniforms, he added.

Steve Willis, communication manager for Glendale Adventist Medical Center, said the Riofrir family has established a memorial fund in Julius’ name at Glendale Federal Bank at 401 N. Brand Blvd. For information, call (818) 500-2289.

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