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.

Yankees acquire James Paxton from Mariners

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The Yankees announced that the club has acquired starter James Paxton from the Mariners in exchange for three prospects: pitcher Justus Sheffield, outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, and pitcher Erik Swanson.

Paxton, 30, has been among the game’s better starters over the past few years. In 2018, he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and a 208/42 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. The lefty has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining after earning $4.9 million this past season.

Sheffield, 22, is the headliner in the Mariners’ return. He made his major league debut in September for the Yankees, pitching 2 2/3 innings across three appearances. Two of those appearances were scoreless; in the third, he gave up a three-run home run to J.D. Martinez, certainly not an uncommon result among pitchers. MLB Pipeline rates Sheffield as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and No. 31 overall in baseball.

Thompson-Williams, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. This past season, between Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he hit .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs, 74 RBI, 63 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases in 415 plate appearances. He was not among the Yankees’ top-30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline.

Swanson, 25, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. He spent most of his 2018 campaign between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Overall, he posted a 2.66 ERA with a 139/29 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings. MLB Pipeline rated him No. 22 in the Yankees’ system.

This trade comes as no surprise as the Yankees clearly wanted to upgrade the starting rotation and the Mariners seemed motivated to trade Paxton this offseason. To the Mariners’ credit, they got a solid return for Paxton, as Sheffield likely becomes the organization’s No. 1 prospect. The only worries about this trade for the Yankees is how Paxton will fare in the more hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium compared to the spacious Safeco Field, and Paxton’s durability. Paxton has made more than 20 starts in a season just twice in his career — the last two years (24 and 28). The Yankees are likely not done adding, however. Expect even more new faces before the start of spring training.