Live baseballs in stands can seriously injure fans

Hardball hazard

Kim Shealy doesn't remember who was at the plate or even which team was batting. In an instant her family outing at Lake Olmstead Stadium was shattered, and the Martinez mother learned a painful, and costly, lesson about safety at a minor league baseball game.

 

Sitting behind the Augusta GreenJackets dugout at a game in late June, Shealy was hit in the mouth by a foul ball. The ball connected with such force that her head popped back, and three of her teeth were knocked out.

She only remembers the sound.

"At first it sounded like a bell or a gong," Shealy said. "I didn't feel it right away, but I knew something had happened."

While balls and bats can enter the stands and cause serious injury, such occurrences aren't common. The GreenJackets post warning signs throughout Lake Olmstead Stadium, and a pregame announcement over the public address system reminds fans of the risks of sitting so close to the action.

A tall net lines the area behind home plate, shielding those fans from foul tips, but most of the seating areas are unprotected.

The children's playground down the left field line also has a net, but there is a chance a ball with the right trajectory can clear the net and land in the play area.

Shealy wants fans to learn from her injury and be aware of their surroundings. In her case, it could have been worse: Shealy was holding her 9-month-old son, Dylan, when the line drive hit her. The foul ball missed the baby by less than a foot.

"I've never seen anything like that, and I never even thought of the possibility that it could happen," she said. "I don't even want to think what would happen if it had hit my son. That would have been awful."

Brian Zicari, in his first year as an usher at Lake Olmstead Stadium, said he was one section over from Shealy when she got hit.

"If you're not watching and the ball comes screaming off the bat, you're not going to have time to react," Zicari said.

Lake Olmstead Stadium staff rushed to help Shealy, who was able to walk to the concourse level, where a permanent first-aid station is always staffed with a registered nurse.

Shealy's injuries weren't life-threatening, but she lost five teeth (two were later pulled) and she wound up with a dental bill of about $30,000. She does have insurance.

"This was by far the worst accident I've seen in my years of baseball," GreenJackets general manager Nick Brown said. "We want people to have fun and enjoy the ballgame, but you need to pay attention."

Although the GreenJackets aren't liable for such injuries -- a warning is printed on the back of every ticket stub -- the Augusta front office has remained in contact with Shealy and offered to help in her recovery.

"We're going to do our best to help her out any way we can," Brown said. "She's more than welcome to come back when she's ready to come back."

Shealy said her husband, Geoff Shealy, is far too much of a baseball fan for her family to avoid GreenJackets games for good. But she said she's got several months of dental work remaining, and a night at the ballpark isn't in the family's immediate future.

"It might not be soon, but, yeah, we'll be back," she said. "We can't stay away forever, but it's going to take some time."

The GreenJackets are currently in the middle of a five-game homestand over a weekend packed with kid-friendly promotions and games. Myron Noodleman will entertain fans during tonight's Nerd Night. Saturday's game will honor military men and women, and the promotion for Sunday's game includes a kids-eat-free deal.

Shealy has some advice for parents planning to take their children to a game this weekend.

"Be very aware," she said. "That's all I can say. I wasn't paying attention, and look what happened. I won't take my kids back without sitting behind the net."

Printed warning

On the back of every Augusta GreenJackets ticket, it says: "The holder assumes all risk and danger incidental to the game of Baseball, whether occurring prior to, during, or subsequent to the actual playing of the game, including specifically (but not exclusively), the danger of being injured by thrown bats and thrown or batted balls, and agrees that Minor League Baseball, the South Atlantic League, the Participating Clubs, their Agents and Players, and other individuals are not liable for injuries resulting from such causes."

By the numbers

43: Foul balls per game, as estimated in a 2006 Augusta Chronicle article that documented chasing foul balls at a GreenJackets game

70: GreenJackets home games in a season

84: Baseballs used in a South Atlantic League game, as estimated by Aaron Larsen, one of two umpires scheduled to work this weekend's series at Lake Olmstead Stadium

300: Pitches thrown during a nine-inning game

21,000: Approximate pitches thrown during a season at Lake Olmstead Stadium

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