Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Take Me Out to the Crowd, Buy Me Some Peanuts and a Helmet
Two stories recently in the news raise questions about what risks are assumed by baseball fans attending games. One story involves a minor-league game last year, at which pitcher Julio Castillo threw a baseball that went into the stands during an on-field melee in Ohio, striking a fan who suffered a concussion. Castillo was recently sentenced by a judge in Montgomery County, Ohio, to 30 days in jail and three years probation. The other story involves a minor-league game in 2003, at which 4-year-old Emilio Crespin was with his family at a picnic table in the left field stands before an Albuquerque Isotopes game when a batting practice home run fractured his skull. An appellate court recently held that his parents can sue the minor-league team and the city. The 22-year-old Castillo was pitching for the visiting Peoria Chiefs, a Chicago Cubs affiliate, when the 10-minute brawl broke out during a game against the Dayton Dragons. Castillo testified at a non-jury trial that he was frightened as the brawl began, and threw the ball toward the Dragons' dugout to keep players from rushing the field. Hecontended thathe did not throw at any opposing player and wasn't trying to hit anyone. In the Albuquerque case, the court rejected the so-called baseball rule whereby getting hit be a foul ball would not be abasis to impose liability against the team or stadium. The baseball rule provides immunity in a baseball stadium for any injury suffered by a patron so long as the facility had a net behind home plate. The teams lawyers say some form of the "baseball rule" has been adopted in approximately two dozen states. The family of the injured boyalleged thatthe team and city were negligent in having people sit in an unprotected area where the placement of tables turns picnickers' attention away from the field and where there are no warning signs or announcements when batting practice begins. Their lawyer contended that the "baseball rule" amounts to special treatment for the sport and stems from an era before baseball was "the multibillion-dollar enterprise that it is today. According to the family's lawyer, Crespin suffered permanent brain damage. In the first case, the accused was a player on the visiting team. Is it unfair to wonder whether a prosecution would have been brought had the offending player been on the home team? In the second case, it seems that getting hit by a baseball in an area close to the playing field is a risk assumed, but it would be interesting to know whether the picnic area is also used during games, and if so, what precautions, if any, are taken to prevent spectators from being hit by a flying baseball then. According to reports, the team and the city of Albuquerque will ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision. Well see if thedecision still stands.