And baseballs flying off bats in all different directions means that everyone — from players to coaches to fans — must be paying attention at all times.
One of the places which should be the safest can actually be one of the most dangerous — the dugout. This became evident a few nights ago when Eugenio Velez(notes) of the San Francisco Giants was hit in the head by a Pat Burrell(notes) line drive while sitting in the dugout. Thankfully, it looks like he is going to be fine, but it was still a very scary situation for everyone involved.
There are a lot of distractions when you're sitting in the dugout. During at-bats, you are talking with other teammates and coaches. You're trying to grab some sunflower seeds or gum. You're grabbing something to drink or finding ways to cool off if it's a hot day. And, of course, you are trying to watch the game too. With all these different things going on throughout the game, we still have to make sure to be alert in the dugout at all times.
Foul balls, of course, present the most dangerous situations when in the dugout. First, no one has their glove on while sitting there. Second, most dugouts have some sort of opening either at the top where players can lean on the fence, or on the sides or middle for the players to enter and leave the field.
Some stadiums, like Oakland, don't even have a protective fence. So when a ball or bat is headed that way, most guys in there are always yelling "heads up" to get the attention of those who might not see the ball coming. And sometimes you just don't have time to react, no matter how good of an athlete you are or how much attention you are paying. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the case with Velez.
A few people have asked me if baseball players should be required to wear helmets in the dugout, have a glove on, or if teams should add full fencing. Adding full fencing — or a net — to all the dugouts is a good idea. It may just take a little re-structuring of the dugouts, which I think is possible. You've seen a few baseball stadiums stretch the netting behind the plate a little further out each year for the same reasons hockey did it — to prevent as many potential fan injuries as possible.
As for the helmet idea, I think it would be hard to pull off unless players start wearing them on the field to play defense, which probably isn't going to happen. Switching between the three different types of headwear — hat, batting helmet, and a coach's protective helmet — at all times of the game probably isn't too feasible, especially for the players who aren't playing that game. Batting helmets aren't the most comfortable things in the world, otherwise you would probably see more players wear them throughout the game like John Olerud. Plus, players would forget to switch out of their hats and it would be tough to regulate from a league standpoint.
But the bottom line is that as long as people are paying attention, they should be fine. The case of Velez is a rare one. There are always situations where you can't see the action on the field, or someone may be trying to move out of the way of a flying object and get in another players view and put them at risk. But for the amount of foul balls or broken bats throughout the course of the game, it is a very small percentage of players that ever actually get hurt. I really think that we as players just have to try our best to keep a quick eye on what's going on during the course of the game and just be alert as we can.
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Curtis Granderson plays for the New York Yankees and his blog will appear regularly on Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew during the 2010 season. Make sure to check out and support his Grand Kids Foundation.
Read his previous posts here.