There was some significance to the Nationals series against the Florida Marlins this past weekend and it had nothing really to do with the play on the field. This past weekend was the first time fans could see and experience the new removable batting practice nets the organization installed while the Nats were playing the Mets in New York.
We have been told the nets, placed up only during batting practice, are ugly eyesores when they are put up, but are quickly forgotten as they are removed a little before the game starts; innocently enough by 15 or more grounds crew workers. Safety is always a concern and rightfully so, so it is nice to see the Nationals, as they put it, react to the recent death of a fan who fell 20 feet to his death at the Ballpark in Arlington after trying to grab a ball tossed into the stands by a player.
What batting practice nets, with no reports of major incidents or injury, are going to do to prevent fans from doing–whatever it is they are supposedly doing to have the Nationals make such a move– is sort of unknown right now. With the fact that most of the stadium is closed off to BP to begin with makes their sudden and bizarre installation open to speculation.
The most recent “story” the NQ has heard comes from the mouths of Natstown faithful to the ears of my Apprentice to Blog. Here is what he wrote me after attending a game this weekend:
“Alright so i was talking with this group of people and they were all upset about the new nets and how all it will really accomplish is fans not being able to get autographs. One asked if it was because of this crazy lady. They asked this guy Greg who works at the park and he said it was and then they told me what happened.
They are done with autographs before the game. Apparently some old woman with a cane was getting an autograph from Brian Bixler and wanted a lot more than just one. Brian told her that he would come back to her after he signed for all the kids who wanted autographs as well. As a result she started screaming at him and cursing at him and used her cane as a weapon. Now they have new rules in place.”
My apprentice went on to tell me Nats Park security has had problems with this lady before in an incident that involved Ryan Zimmerman and signing autographs and her punishment for the Bixler ordeal was a two-year Nationals Park ban.
At first I didn’t believe it. Old women assaulting Brian Bixler and Nationals Park security with a cane? Too corny even for this blog. However, I did a little digging and did confirm from some other fans that such a woman did exist and is now absent from Nationals Park. I even have a name, but I hesitate to print the name of this person on the blog for I have not been able to make contact to confirm or deny these events, but the person herself is not really the concern. The concern comes from if the Nationals actually put these nets up not to protect the fans, but protect themselves from the fans– or at least angry, cane-welding seniors.
Granted that over the years seeking autographs has taken on a sick, financial meaning for some, but overall it continues to be the traditional fan experience draw, especially to young and promising future fans. Major League ballparks (Nats Park included) have been tagged as cold, remote structures that continue to distance fans from the game and these batting practice nets are merely highlighting the borders between the game and the fans further. The nets don’t make a whole lot of sense in the respect that BP has never really been that extremely dangerous to fans to warrant them and why a last place team who is looking to grow and expand would even want them when they are yet another way to alienate the fan base.
Safety. The golden rule of safety. No one can or will argue against safety.
When you sense that someone could choke on a piece of ice in their Souvenir Cup you do what is safest for all fans: not allow ice in the Park. If you close the team store because you are worried the store employees stacked the stack of Zimmerman bobbleheads too high and they could fall over, just say it was closed for safety. When one fan goes bonkers and yells and canes at security, for safety, you put up batting practice nets proving that one bad apple does ruin it for everyone– actually, the more I think about it the more it doesn’t make any sense, but the Nationals have done weirder things before.
Is there any truth to this story? Did the Nats really put up the batting practice nets to deter autograph seekers? Or is there really a safety issue? Or perhaps a little of both? There are group of fans that believe it and even some Nationals Park personnel that believe it.
The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are out there and they can paint one of many pictures. The NQ is simply putting them in a different order for you to see and decide if those pieces fit.
I can’t tell if the picture is of a castle, sailboat or a puppy pulling on the diaper of a baby, but when and if I ever figure it out I will let you know.