Athletics

Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting

coliseumnettingusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Why A's players don't mind trade-offs with extended protective netting

OAKLAND -- Back in December, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declared that all 30 ballparks will extend their existing protective netting in advance of the 2020 season.
 
The movement has its reservations among fans but seems universally supported among players. Even in Oakland, where ample foul ground already buys added insurance.
 
“It will be tougher to interact with the fans, maybe to throw a ball to them,” A's shortstop Marcus Semien said Friday at the team's media day. “I love throwing a baseball to a kid. But, at least they will be safe.”

An NBC News investigation last year found at least 808 reports of fan injuries from baseballs from 2012 through 2019. The total was "based on lawsuits, news reports, social media postings and information from the contractors that provide first aid stations at MLB stadiums."
 
On May 29 in Houston, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. lined a foul ball that struck a two-year-old girl in the head. Earlier this month, an attorney representing her family told the Houston Chronicle that the girl suffered a permanent brain injury, remains subject to seizures and might need to stay on medication for the rest of her life.
 
“It sucks, and I don’t want to see it anymore,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “I’ve seen fans looking at their phones, not paying attention. I’ve seen people holding babies and not paying attention.”
 
Chapman understands the inconvenience but predicts eventual workarounds to make sure fans get their access, yet remain protected in critical situations. 

“I don’t understand why fan safety would be a bad thing,” he said.
 
In an era where exit velocities are measured with extreme precision, it’s scary to know that a baseball traveling 100 miles per hour could be headed straight towards someone who might not be able to protect themselves.

Even if they are paying attention to every pitch.
 
“We hit the ball so hard,” Semien said. “And sometimes we’re a little early. Or late. And now that they are up by the dugouts, you just say, 'Thank you the nets are there because that could have been bad.' ”
 
Even pitchers realize the dangers of line drives in foul territory. Starter Mike Fiers spends a lot of time in road dugouts, where he and other players often remark about how close young kids are sitting to the action.
 
“They’re in a bad spot,” Fiers said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. It’s tough when those foul balls go in because everyone always watches and hopes nobody gets hit.”

[RELATED: A's teammates 'respect' Fiers for outing Astros' scandal]
 
As if there weren’t already enough thoughts running through the typical MLB hitter's mind, the concept of additional netting should at least take risk out of the equation. 
 
“No one wants to be that guy who hits a ball in the stands and hits somebody,” A's manager Bob Melvin said. “Our fans are baseball’s lifeline. You have younger kids in there. It’s a nightmare to think about. I think all players are in favor of that.”

Two SoCal Little Leagues ban using Astros name after cheating scandal

Two SoCal Little Leagues ban using Astros name after cheating scandal

The surest bet for the A's to avoid the dreaded AL Wild Card Game would be for MLB to follow the lead of a pair of Little Leagues in Southern California. 

The Long Beach Little League and East Fullerton Little League won't have any teams named after the Houston Astros in the wake of Houston's sign-stealing operation coming to light this offseason.

Neither Little League thinks the Astros are a good example for their kids. 

"Parents are disgusted," Long Beach Little League president Steve Klaus told the Orange County Register. "They are disgusted with the Astros and their lack of ownership and accountability. We know there's more to this scandal. What's coming tomorrow? With the Astros, you've got premeditated cheating."

A's pitcher -- and former Astro -- Mike Fiers told The Athletic in November that his old club used a center-field camera to steal opposing catchers' signs in 2017, the year they won the World Series. Astros players or team employees would then bang a trash can to tell their teammates what pitches were coming. 

MLB suspended then-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch -- who were both fired soon after -- while fining the organization $5 million and docking first- and second-round draft picks in each of the next two years after an investigation confirmed that the Astros stole signs.

Rob Manfred thinks that was punishment enough, but those who called for players to be punished or the team to be stripped of their title probably wish the MLB commissioner had taken note of his counterparts in Southern California. 

[RELATED: Manfred says Fiers did 'a service' revealing Astros scandal]

The A's won 97 games in 2018 and 2019 but finished no better than six games back of the Astros in the AL West. Oakland subsequently was eliminated in the AL Wild Card Game in both seasons, losing to the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively. 

Could the A's have gone farther without the Astros standing in the way of a division crown? We'll never know the real answer, but the A's in the Long Beach and East Fullerton Little Leagues have one less juggernaut to worry about, at least. 

Rob Manfred says Astros whistleblower Mike Fiers did MLB 'a service'

Rob Manfred says Astros whistleblower Mike Fiers did MLB 'a service'

Rob Manfred didn't love Trevor Bauer calling him "a clown," but the MLB commissioner and the Extremely Online Cincinnati Reds pitcher agree on one thing. 

A's pitcher Mike Fiers was right to lift the lid on the Houston Astros' trash-can-and-video-camera-powered cheating scandal. 

“Mike Fiers, in my view, did the industry a service,” Manfred told ESPN's Karl Ravech in a sit-down interview released Sunday (H/T New York Post). “He opened the door here. Without that opening of the door, we would not have been able to conduct the effective investigation that we did. We would not have been able to impose the disciplines that were imposed. We would not have been able to probably take the prophylactic measures that we’re gonna take with respect to 2020, and it’s important -- painful, but important -- that we clean all that up.”

Fiers told The Athletic in November that the Astros used a camera in center field to record and steal opposing catchers' signs en route to Houston's 2017 World Series title. Those signs would then be relayed to an Astros batter when his teammates or team employees banged on a garbage can. 

The Astros acquired Fiers in a midseason trade that year, and he signed with the Detroit Tigers the following offseason. Fiers told the Tigers about the scheme and later told the A's following a 2018 trade to Oakland. 

Fiers faced criticism from some in baseball, including television analysts Jessica Mendoza and Pedro Martinez, for whistleblowing and breaking what Manfred referred to as the "cone of silence" coming from the clubhouse. Carlos Correa, Fiers' former Astros teammate, said the pitcher should be "man enough" to clear Jose Altuve of the spreading insinuation his 2017 AL MVP was tainted by Houston's cheating. 

The pitcher didn't say that Altuve was when he first revealed the scheme to The Athletic back in November, and he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser on Sunday that the Astros "cheated as a team" in 2017. 

[RELATED: Manfred explains why Astros players haven't been punished]

Fiers will see his former teammates for the first time since going public when the Astros visit the A's in Oakland on March 30. The A's, then, will first play in Houston on April 24.

Don't bet on the fans at Minute Maid Park being as understanding as their Coliseum counterparts or the commissioner.