After almost every home game, Rich Hill’s wife, Caitlin, informs him of the foul balls that ricocheted behind home plate and into the family section at Dodger Stadium, unleashing a split second of panic. When he’s on the mound and sees a ball rocketed into the stands, Hill cannot help but wonder where it landed. In the dugout, Hill and his teammates, after watching a screeching line drive dart into the crowd, question why the protective netting stops where it stops, at the end of the two dugouts, leaving people down the line vulnerable.
“It’s something that you just hold your breath for a second,” Hill said. “You just hope it hits a seat, not a person.”
At a time when balls are being hit harder than ever and exit velocity is measured and celebrated, the fear is omnipresent for Hill. So Tuesday, the 39-year-old pitcher telephoned the Major League Baseball Players’ Assn. to voice his opinion: It’s time to extend the protective netting to ensure fan safety.
“It’s such a little investment to protect a life,” Hill said. “Everybody puts their seat belt on when they get in a car. Times change. A lot of things have changed to indicate in these circumstances that we’re in a different time. That’s it. Period. And I don’t think anybody will be upset by that.”
Last August, Linda Goldbloom, 79, was struck by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium and died four days later. Earlier this season, Hill recalled, a boy was hit by a line drive behind the ear during batting practice before a game at Dodger Stadium. The episode “scared the [crap] out of me,” Hill said. He also highlighted the frightening incident in Houston this season when a foul ball by the Chicago Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. struck a young girl in the head.
“You always want to make sure you get ahead of something and guard against some type of injury, let alone potential fatal [injury],” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I know we’re continuing to talk and see what’s the best thing, experience for the fans, their safety, and Major League Baseball is doing the same thing. So honestly for me, you just never want to see something like that… It happens more than we think, I would assume.”
Hill, like many people in baseball, believes baseballs are juiced again this season after Major League Baseball acknowledged that the balls were altered in 2017. That, he said, combined with hitters focused on the long ball and pitchers throwing harder than ever conditions for spectators while distractions such as phones only reduce reaction time. He insisted “every player would be on board” to extend the netting.
“One more fan having a severe injury or, in a really unfortunate situation, a death, is something that is unacceptable,” Hill said. “You come to the ballpark for a reprieve and to take a break from the hectic schedule of life to enjoy watching us go out there and play. And you want to feel comfortable and safe.”