Fan’s injury puts focus on hazards at ballparks
Woman struck by broken bat is in serious condition
A woman struck and seriously injured by a shattered baseball bat at the Red Sox game remained hospitalized and in serious condition Saturday night, an incident that terrified her family and raised larger questions about safety at Fenway and other ballparks where fans are seated close to the action.
Medical staff carried Tonya Carpenter, 44, of Paxton, off the field, and she was taken to a Boston hospital during the second inning of the game, after a section of a bat swung by Oakland Athletics batter Brett Lawrie struck her in the head.
The injury did not deter fans from filling seats at the ball park Saturday afternoon, but it renewed discussion over whether nets that protect fans behind home plate should be extended farther toward the dugouts.
That question has provoked controversy in the past and was raised when the seats near where Carpenter sat were installed about 13 years ago, narrowing the already scant foul ground between the stands and the batter’s box.
Carpenter was at the game Friday night with her 8-year-old son, Aidan, and her former boss at Liberty Construction, according to Matthew Carpenter, her ex-brother-in-law.
“We’re all praying for her,” Matthew Carpenter, 44, said by telephone from his home in Holden on Saturday afternoon.
Tonya Carpenter is divorced from his brother, George, he said.
George Carpenter drove from his home in Rutland on Friday night to Beth Israel Deaconness Hospital, where she was admitted, after being notified of the incident, his brother said.
Carpenter’s family called her condition serious in a statement that asked for privacy as she recovers in the hospital.
“Tonya’s family and loved ones are grateful to all who have reached out with thoughts and prayers,” the statement said.
Matthew Carpenter said he learned about the accident Saturday morning through calls and text messages from his many siblings, most of whom live in the Worcester area.
“She’s stable,” Carpenter said of her condition Saturday afternoon. “All we can do is pray for her. And hope that Aidan isn’t too traumatized from all this.”
He said he last saw Tonya Carpenter last month, when Aidan made his First Holy Communion. “It was a happy day for everyone,” he said.
He said he believes the game was not his nephew’s first visit to Fenway. “We’re a big family and we all go to games there,” he said.
The Red Sox issued a short statement Saturday afternoon offering no new details.
“All of us offer our prayers and our thoughts as we wish her a speedy recovery,” the statement said.
The principal owner of the Red Sox is John Henry, who also owns the Globe.
Major League Baseball issued a more detailed statement, expressing “the utmost concern” for the victim.
“We will continue to keep her and her family in our thoughts and prayers. We appreciate the efforts of the Red Sox, the first responders, the Boston Police Department and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,” said the MLB statement, which was sent by spokesman Mike Teevan. “Fan safety is our foremost goal for all those who choose to support our game by visiting our ballparks and we will always strive for that experience to be safe and fan-friendly.”
The sight of the wooden bat hurtling into the crowd on a cool June evening stunned fans, many of whom rushed to assist Carpenter and her son.
Dr. Marc Berg, a pediatric intensive care specialist who was visiting Boston from Arizona, said he was seated near Carpenter, with his children and a friend.
“I certainly consider the help that I provided her to have been part of a team effort,” Berg wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “Anyone who looks at the pictures . . . can see there was never fewer than [a] half dozen people immediately surrounding her.”
Berg declined to comment on the assistance he provided.
“I also consider any care that I provided her to have been a part of a doctor-patient relationship that I would now have with her,” wrote Berg, who said he has been a doctor for 15 years at Banner University Medical Center in Tucson. “I certainly hope she has a complete recovery.”
Both teams observed a moment of silence for Carpenter before the game Saturday. Some fans there to watch the Sox play against the A’s again said the incident was alarming but too random and rare to make them change their plans.
Jerry Peters, a 42-year-old mathematics teacher at Bedford High School who brought his 4-year-old son, Holden, to his first Red Sox game Saturday said he and his wife had no reservations about having their son there just a day after the horrific incident.
They sat in Dugout Section 52, Row 2, seats 3 and 4, near Carpenter’s seat.
“We had seen it in the news and I looked online to see where the seats were and I was like, ‘Wow, maybe this is where the bat came in [Friday] night. But there weren’t any worries,’’ Peters said. “I’m a mathematician and I know what odds are all about. The odds of that happening are one-in-whatever.
“It’s like lightning striking, you know? The best place to be after lightning strikes is right where lightning struck before.’’
Red Sox player David Ortiz said on Saturday that he tells fans who sit close to the field to pay attention.
“I’m always telling them, ‘Watch the game, watch the game,’ because anything can happen, especially when you’re that close,’’ Ortiz said. “There’s no net and what happened [Friday] night, I’ve been playing this game a long time and I don’t ever remember seeing somebody get injured that bad.”
The issue of whether to extend netting to protect fans has been controversial for years. The up-close feel of the baseball park is part of what makes it attractive.
“Part of the reason we love baseball is because it’s so intimate,” said Ed Comber, owner of the website foulballz.com, where he compiles statistics, lawsuits, and other research about stray balls.
An average of 45 foul balls are hit per game at Fenway, and of those, 30 travel into the stands, Comber said. Of those, about half are tossed by players or bat boys and the other half are hit.
Recently, more fans have been hit because they were distracted by their cellphones, Comber said.
“Paying attention is really just the easiest way to avoid any serious injury,” Comber said.
Safety consultant Chris Miranda offered an opposing view, saying nets are an easy way to make games safer.
“Netting down to the beginning of dugouts, I don’t think it would ruin anyone’s time at a game,” said Miranda, a Boston native and owner and president of Pennsylvania-based MAC Safety Consultants.
Baseball teams do not track or report how many fans are injured at games, but a 2000 lawsuit filed against the Sox by an injured fan cited some numbers.
Over five years during the 1990s, the number of injuries sustained by fans from foul balls ranged from 36 to 53 per season, or about one every three or four games, according to data compiled by the team as part of the suit, which was dismissed.
The Globe studied the issue in a 2003 story after the unprotected field-level seats were added.
The team at that time decided not to install netting in front of those sections.
“Why would we extend the net?” Janet Marie Smith told the Globe in 2003, when she was the senior vice president of planning and development in charge of stadium decisions for the Sox. “We’ve been responsive for what our fans want. Many people would prefer the unobstructed view.”
The Sox did raise the wall in front of the dugout seats from 32 to 38 inches, however, the Globe reported at the time.
For the report, the Globe sent volunteers to a dozen major league parks to measure the distance between unprotected seats and home plate.
They found that Fenway had more unprotected seats within 90 feet of home plate than any of the dozen parks surveyed, the shortest distance from home to the nearest unprotected seat, and the shortest backstop measured from end to end.
The Red Sox disputed the report at the time, saying the team had surveyed seven parks and found three with unprotected seats closer than Fenway’s 53 feet, 11 inches. Their information, however, did not match with information provided by those parks to the Globe.
“Our question to ourselves was, are we getting closer to home plate than would be considered safe and conventional, using other ballparks as a standard?” Smith said at the time. “We’re seeking a balance between creating intimacy and creating safe conditions. You could protect yourself to death. You could stay home and watch the game on television, and you’d be absolutely safe.”