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Fan Calls For Safer Grandstands At Baseball Games

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As if there wasn't enough to worry about, there are fans who are injured - sometimes seriously - each year by foul balls or split bats in Major League Baseball parks. This happened to Andy Zlotnick, a Yankees fan and a Manhattan real estate executive, at Yankee Stadium during the 2011 season. Since that time, Andy Zlotnick has campaigned for Major League Baseball to install netting behind home plate and long foul lines. Some teams have installed some netting. And a New York City councilman has proposed a bill. Andy Zlotnick joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDY ZLOTNICK: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What happened to you that night?

ZLOTNICK: Well, it actually wasn't in the evening. It was an afternoon game. I had been given four tickets to a Yankees A's game. I took my 12-year-old son Matt and two of his 12-year-old buddies. In the third inning, Hideki Matsui got up, and he ripped a screening line drive foul. I never saw the pitch. I never saw the batter. I never saw the ball.

All I heard was, you know, the crack of the bat. And then immediately behind me, I heard a woman scream, watch out. And before I could even lift my arm or do anything, I just had an explosion in the left side of my face. And what I found out later was that my eye socket had been completely destroyed.

SIMON: You've become an activist on this issue. How many injuries occur over a season, best as you can tell?

ZLOTNICK: Baseball doesn't release the statistics. I'm sure they keep them because, you know, people who get hurt in the stadiums - I'm sure they have to record that. A journalist, a couple of years ago, named David Glover at Bloomberg news estimated that 1,750 people on average get hurt in Major League ballparks every year.

Just a couple of days ago at Yankee Stadium, a young boy sitting near the dugout got hit by a flying bat. I don't know whether he saw that helicoptering shard of a bat that was flying at him at probably incredible speed. But it could kill somebody, and somebody will die.

SIMON: Now, the netting, as I understand it, is not expensive - I mean, a scintilla of what a relief pitcher earns annually.

ZLOTNICK: I think that's right, yeah.

SIMON: But on the other hand, I mean, these modern stadiums that are being built want to get the fans close to the action.

ZLOTNICK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you've been very lucky as a Cubs fan. You've always had Wrigley Field, which is an intimate stadium. And that's what these new stadiums are trying to recreate. Even Yankee Stadium, if you go on their website today, Scott, they actually tout the fact that home plate is 27 feet closer than in the old Yankee Stadium.

So they bring in the home plate. They bring in the sidelines. Everybody's much closer to the action, but they're also closer to the danger. And they haven't had a corresponding increase in the safety precautions up the lines.

SIMON: Does the netting remove what can be a very exciting play in foul territory - the catcher, the third baseman, the first baseman, reaching over and snagging a pop foul?

ZLOTNICK: You know, maybe there's some of that. I think there's some fear that players won't be able to make quite the plays that they were in the past. You know, we've lived with netting behind home plate. And those are the best seats in the house. And they're always filled. You don't hear catchers complaining too much about the netting behind them. The seats up the line are just as dangerous.

The netting today is a new technology. It's super fine, super strong. It's like fishing line. One journalist, Joe Nocera of The New York Times, went out to Minnesota who just put in new nets, and he described it. He said it wasn't quite invisible, but it was sort of like wearing a new prescription with your glasses. You know, you get used to it after 10 or 15 minutes, and you don't even realize it's there.

SIMON: Andy Zlotnick, thanks so much for being with us.

ZLOTNICK: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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