Chicago Cubs: How MLB failed Albert Almora Jr. and fans

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Whether we want to blame the fans who do not pay attention or teams who choose not to extend their netting far enough, Major League Baseball could have and should have stepped in long before the incident involving the Chicago Cubs and Albert Almora Jr.

Remember me? I am back again Chicago Cubs fans. If you have been following the site long enough you may recall my analysis and unbiased opinion (I am a White Sox fan) of the Chicago Cubs sometime around the All-Star break.

Now, I am back to not analyze the team, not weigh in on the Kris Bryant saga or even discuss how excited I am to be a White Sox fan this offseason. No. I am back to discuss the tragic experience that took place last season at a Chicago Cubs game in Houston versus the Astros. A situation involving  Albert Almora Jr. Before I begin though, I must tell you a personal story.

The year was, well I do not actually remember what the year was if I am being honest. I had to be between nine and 11 years old though. My mom and stepdad took my brother and me to a White Sox game. We were sitting somewhere on the third-base side and behind the dugout. We were closer to the home plate side of the dugout to help give you a vision of our seats. Our seats were probably 15-20 rows up too.

Mind you, I am not a toddler at this game. I am not two years old and unable to pay attention to a baseball game. I had my eyes on the game at least 80 percent of the time if not more. I even had my baseball glove with me. At this age, I am not sure I cared about who won or lost. I wanted to catch a foul ball. That was my goal and somewhat cheer on the White Sox.

I do not recall the inning or who was at-bat. I do not even recall which team was pitching and which team was hitting. What I do remember is that my brother (who was a toddler by the way) needed something (maybe a diaper change) that caused my mom to have to leave her seat. Whether you believe in God or not, some divine power (or karma or pure luck) was at work here.

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While she was gone, a foul ball came screaming towards us. I was unable to react fast enough to the ball and it hard right in the middle of the seat my mom was sitting in no more than 10 minutes before. The ball bounced off the back of her seat and ricocheted off my stepdad’s face. Then the ball bounced down 5-10 rows where a luckier spectator was able to grab the foul ball.

My stepdad ended up with a black eye and well, my mom was lucky enough to not be sitting in her chair or this story would have been much more tragic. Tragic like say the little girl who was not as lucky as my mom. The little girl who took a foul ball off the end of Albert Almora Jr.’s bat at an Astros game last season. The little girl who recently was announced to have permanent brain damage.

This little girl now has what doctors describe as similar effects of a stroke. She will be on anti-seizure medication for the rest of her life and she is not even three years old yet. Because of her age, doctors have not been able to yet determine if she will have cognitive deficits due to the injury.

The family has yet to file any lawsuits, but I would not be surprised if one comes eventually. Since the incident, Major League Baseball has come down harder on the netting issue. Starting in 2020, all 30 teams will extend their netting. This will be the second time (2018) the nets will be extended in the last two years and honestly, neither time came soon enough.

After extending the netting in 2018 to the far end of the dugout (preventing the scary experience with my mom), seven teams will extend their netting all the way to the foul pole (White Sox we’re first to do this). 15 stadiums will extend their netting to the spot where the stands start angling back in away from the field (about 3/4 of the way to the foul poles). The final eight teams will go further beyond the end of the dugouts.

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This is great, but too little, too late if you ask me. With all of the distractions, stadiums have nowadays teams are asking for fans to be less than completely focused on the game. Personally, I do not care about the clause on the back of the tickets. Major League Baseball is the most responsible for not protecting fans and even the players who are involved with these injuries.

If you did not follow the Chicago Cubs story, Almora was completely devastated by what took place last season against the Astros. Imagine being responsible for causing a total stranger brain damage. Now imagine if that stranger was only two years old. If this has no effects on you emotionally you may not have a soul.

Now, this is not the first time someone was severely injured by a foul ball at a baseball game. In 2018 a woman was fatally hurt by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium. In 2017 a young man was hospitalized after a foul ball hit him at a Yankees game. In fact, it is estimated that more fans (1,700) are injured by foul balls each year than batters are hit by a pitch.

Foul ball injuries seem to increase annually as players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger.  This is a trend Major League Baseball should have been tracking sooner. The league (and teams second) should have realized fan safety is too important and forced clubs to extend their netting much sooner. Parents should be mindful of bringing their young children to a professional sporting event, but as a league, more should have been done sooner.

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As a parent of three young children, I feel awful for this little girl. I cannot imagine the turmoil her parents are going through. As a human being, I feel awful for Almora who now has to live with the consequences of his foul ball. Consequences he had no control over. For the league and even to some degree every team, I do not feel anything but disappointment and to some degree anger. Great job for getting this right way too late.