dangerous. Most fans probably overlook that warning on the back of the ticket that absolves teams of any liability when a fan is injured by a ball or a bat that flies into the stands.
But in the past 20 years or so, new ballparks have been built with an emphasis on getting fans as close to the field as possible. Foul territory has shrunk. I have been lucky enough get the chance to sit in great seats in a couple of the new ballparks. I was amazed how close to the field I was.
At both Yankee Stadium and Miller Park, I sat near third base within the first five rows. I felt like I could reach out and touch the players. And I also was aware that a ball or bat could come flying past me at anytime. At Miller Park a ball did land behind us and a vendor was hit, although apparently suffered just a bruise.
A fan at a Kansas City Royals game this year wasn't so lucky. She was hit by a piece of bat that shattered. The last few years there has been a growing debate over why so many bats shatter. The prevailing theory is that bats today are made of maple instead of the traditional ash. It seems baseball is moving as quickly on this problem as it did on steroids.
Another danger facing fans who sit close to the field, is the relatively new phenomenon of hitters letting go of their bats. Frequently, they land in the stands. The first player I remember doing this was Bernie Carbo when he played for the Brewers in 1976. It was so notable that I remember the Milwaukee Journal runniing a story about it trying to figure out why it was happening.
I suspect that the teaching of batting guru Charlie Lau, who counseled some batters to let go of the bat with one hand on their backswing is a big factor. Maybe something was lost in the translation, but it seems that almost all hitters let go of the bat now, and all too many of them let go with both hands.
I have a simple solution to the flying bat problem: If a batter flings his bat into the stands he has to complete the game without a new one. I have a feeling this idiotic behavior -- which wouldn't be tolerated in Little League -- would cease quickly.
Since that's not likely to happen, and American teams are just as unlikely to follow the example of their Japanese counterparts and install netting down the foul lines, my advice is to enjoy the game, but heed that warning on the back of the ticket.