Luis Salazar

Screaming foul balls, errant hockey pucks and Luis Salazar

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We learn this morning that Luis Salazar seems to have avoided brain damage as a result of the wicked foul ball that tore into the dugout yesterday. He has multiple facial fractures, but he’s recovering in an Orlando hospital.

That incident reminded me that I wasn’t wrong to feel really vulnerable when I was at spring training games last week. Most of the time I was in the press box, but I’d spend at least part of every game down low along the lines, just beyond the screen so that I could get some good pictures. Whenever I had my face down to mess with my phone or my camera or to take a note or whatever, I had a strong compulsion to look up because I was painfully aware of how fast a ball could find its way to my head.

The incident also reminded me of Brittanie Cecil. She was the 13 year-old girl who was killed by an errant puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002.  I certainly had her in my mind last night when, hours after the Salazar incident, my brother and I went to see the Jackets play the St. Louis Blues. As always, I noted the netting on each end of the ice that wasn’t a standard part of hockey arenas before Cecil’s death and realized that heavy, fast-moving projectiles and fans can be a dangerous combination.

I’m not alone in thinking about that. Indeed, it prompted a reader — Rob B. — to write in yesterday putting voice to what a lot of probably feel:

When I read the posts about Josh Beckett and the San Diego coach being hit last week, I could not help but think about Mike Coolbaugh.  I also thought about 4 year old Luke Holko, who was attending a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game in 2009, when he was hit in the head by a foul ball.  Additionally, I thought about Tyler Colvin who was impaled by a broken bat this past September and Denard Spann’s mother who was hit by his foul ball last March.

Last year, I read the book about Mike Coolbaugh, “Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America” by S.L. Price.  Of the many interesting items in that story, one that stood out was the idea that the players all seemed to be aware of the inherent dangers of being hit by a ball or bat.  From what I remember, there were many people interviewed who mentioned that they kept a watch out for family members at the ballpark and made sure that they kept themselves behing the protective netting.

Ever since I read that book, I have attempted to make sure that my family and I are seated in areas where our safety is increased.  With regards to the more affordable Minor League, we try to sit behind the netting.  When we go to the more expensive Major League Stadiums, we tend to sit in areas which place us farther from the action.

When we went to games at Durham, Brooklyn, and Frederick, all great stadiums where most of the fans are incredibly close to the action, we saw many balls hit hard into the stands and most of the attendees did not have gloves to attempt to protect themselves.  We also saw a number of broken and intact bats fly into the stands.

When we went to the Futures At Fenway games last summer, we were seated close to the field, but not behing the screen.  Luckily, I brought my glove with me, since I had to catch a line drive foul that was heading for my younger son.

It is shocking to me that Major and Minor League Baseball have not put more safety features in place to protect the players and the fans.  I understand that it may take away from some esthetic part of the game, but the alternative is incredibly costly.  I just hope that MLB and MiLB do something, quickly, before there is another Mike Coolbaugh or another Luis Salazar.

You can’t make anything 100% safe. Accidents and incidents happen. There is no such thing as total protection, and I don’t think that should be the overriding goal of those who operate ballparks and arenas.

But nor should anyone dismiss the idea of added safety, and perhaps the Salazar incident should prompt us to think about what, if anything, can be done that can provide a reasonable measure of protection to those so close to the action.

In the meantime, if you find yourself low and close at the ballpark, for God’s sake, pay attention.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.