Foul Balls Aren't As Fun When You Don't Catch ThemWBZ

Usually a foul ball leads to a nice souvenir, but sometimes it causes serious injury or worse. That prompted one WBZ viewer to e-mail our curiosity Web site.

Laura McDonagh from South Boston has a very personal reason for her question:

“I wanted to know how many people get hit by foul balls. We see everybody trying to catch them, but how many injuries are done a year by foul balls, since I am now one of the statistics,” she says.

Laura and her husband are big fans. In fact, their first date was to a Red Sox game.

They regularly travel to root for the Sox. “We decided not to do Christmas presents, but to do Red Sox road trips,” she says.

But last August, at a Red Sox-White Sox game at Cellular Field, it happened. “Dice K pitched a 94 mph fastball, and A.J. Pierzynski hit it. And as it was coming at my face, my immediate reaction was to block my face, and it busted my hand,” says Laura. “We’re talking fractured finger, chipped finger, tendon damage and a long term rehab,” she adds.

She even has tiny hooks glued to two of her fingernails so she can attach rubber bands to them to stretch her fingers.

Foul balls are a common occurrence at every game, and they can be fun. But they’re no joke because each year there are serious injuries, or worse.

Last year, Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a foul while coaching first base for the Minor League Tulsa Drillers.

When we tried to find out how many people are injured by fouls each season, we didn’t do so well with the usual sources.

Major League Baseball says it doesn’t keep numbers, but that the teams do.

So, WBZ called 10 teams, including the Red Sox. They either didn’t return our calls, or said they didn’t know. A couple of the teams said they wouldn’t give out the information. That’s what the Sox said.

So we took the question to University of New Haven professor Gil Fried. He studies the risks associated with sports facilities and says there are thousands of injuries every season, with a small number of serious ones. “My estimate at the major league baseball level is probably about 300 injuries a year that require hospitalization or emergency medical care,” he says.

That’s a relatively small number when you think about how many people go to ball games every year, but the injuries he’s talking about can be devastating.

A possible solution would be to put screening along the first and third base lines. That’s what they do in Japan. The Sox played on one of those fields when they visited there. “If you’re sitting down the first and third base line, you should have the utmost in vigilance, bring a mitt. But also, watch your kids,” says Professor Fried.

Laura got autographed balls from Pierzynski and Dice K out of the experience. “I have no ill feelings towards them at all. It’s part of going to a game,” she says.

And that’s pretty much what the courts have held. As long as the parks screen off the most dangerous area, which they say is behind home plate, they’re covered. There’s also a disclaimer in fine print on the back of each ticket that basically says you’re on your own.

It’s been over 2 months since Laura was hurt and she’s still undergoing treatment.

She probably has 2 or 3 months of rehab to go. And even with insurance, she’s paid about $1,000 out of pocket for her medical costs.

One bit of good news: the White Sox just told her they’ll cover the cost of her ambulance ride from Cellular Field.

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