How one fan's story contributed to a conversation about MLB's safety netting

Todd Frazier reacts after a foul ball off his bat struck Geoff Jacobson's daughter in the stands. Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Six months after a terrifying scene, Major League Baseball's parks have extended the netting to protect more fans than before.

It was the fifth inning of an afternoon game in the Bronx between the Twins and the Yankees last Sept. 20. A toddler, soon to turn 2, was sitting on her grandfather's lap behind the third-base dugout. Then-Yankee Todd Frazier ripped a 105 mph line drive that struck her in the head.

The girl's father, Geoff Jacobson, told ESPN.com that her six days in intensive care were the longest in the lives of the Jacobson family. He said his daughter had skull fractures, bleeding on the brain, both eyes swollen shut and the impression of the baseball's stitching on her forehead. She had a feeding tube and was hooked up to machines monitoring her for seizures.

In the moments after his foul ball hit her, Frazier and both teams were silent -- some players were crying. Play was stopped for more than five minutes as emergency personnel tended to the girl.

The accident and the aftermath became national news.

"I'm in my family room and my son says, 'Turn on the TV,'" said Jay Loos, who was hit by a foul liner past first base at Wrigley Field less than a month before. Loos was permanently blinded in one eye and suffered broken facial bones in the accident.

"I said, 'Oh my god' and had tears running down my good eye."

Loos, who has now had three eye operations, said that when he was in the hospital, he was consumed with fear that it would happen to someone else.

When it happened to Jacobson's daughter, it immediately intensified the scrutiny and the pressure to extend safety netting at all ballparks.

"That was the tipping point -- unfortunately, it took that," said Rick Cusick, who also lost sight in one eye after a foul liner struck him in 2016 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Two months before the injuries to Jacobson's daughter, the Yankees said they were "seriously exploring" extending protective netting after a series of events, including:

  • New York City council member Rafael Espinal proposed a law mandating netting from behind home plate to both foul poles

  • The Mets extended their netting beyond the far ends of both dugouts

  • An Aaron Judge foul line drive bloodied a man at Yankee Stadium

During the 11 days between the Frazier liner and the season's end, there were a flurry of safety-related announcements from teams. Several, including the Yankees, said they would extend protective netting at their ballparks.

"The public outcry was so galvanizing, and teams snapped into place," said Andy Zlotnick, a vocal advocate for increased protection since he endured multiple fractures and surgeries, as well as retinal damage, after he was hit in the face by a liner at Yankee Stadium in 2011. "Her [Jacobson's daughter's] injury was what many of us warned about for years."

In January, the Yankees released the new details: They would extend netting beyond the far edges of both dugouts for 2018.

On Feb. 1, Major League Baseball said all 30 teams would now have netting extending to at least the far edges of both dugouts -- triple the number that had it for 2017.

"The injury to my daughter, I guess, was the straw that broke the camel's back," Jacobson said.

"Sadly, it often takes great tragedy and suffering to cause change. I think, without question, these actions of extending the netting will help countless people never having to endure what my daughter went through, and all the people injured before her," Jacobson added.

A league official familiar with the issue said on condition of anonymity that MLB knew last summer of several teams that were already planning to extend netting for 2018 and it is unclear whether the Sept. 20 accident in New York influenced other teams to do so.

"I think they did the right thing, which is commendable," Jacobson said. "There was nothing they could do to undo the past, but there is no better time than the present to make a better future."

Said Cusick: "The question is whether that [the 2018 changes] will be enough. All we want is for nobody to get hurt again."

Four years ago, a Bloomberg News report estimated 1,750 fans a year are struck by foul balls or bats at MLB games.

"The injury to my daughter, I guess, was the straw that broke the camel's back." Geoff Jacobson, on MLB teams extending safety netting

The official who declined to be named said the league has not logged or maintained data on foul balls entering the stands, or on how the extensions of netting the past two seasons have affected the numbers.

Jacobson, who has not made his daughter's first name public, said she might eventually require surgery on her nose and orbital bones and continues to wear an eye patch for five hours a day, as she has for the past three months, to improve her vision and strengthen the injured eye, but the extent of the damage to her optic nerve is not yet known.

"We are very fortunate in the grand scheme of things," he added. "The truth is my daughter could have been killed, give or take an inch."

There was once a fatality caused by a foul ball hit into the stands at a big league game. Alan Fish, 14, died after a liner struck him in the head at Dodger Stadium in 1970.

But for 45 years, there hadn't been a significant, league-wide push to extend netting beyond the area behind home plate. Then, on June 5, 2015, at Boston's Fenway Park, a shard from a broken bat slammed into a woman's head. Tonya Carpenter suffered life-threatening injuries and underwent emergency brain surgery.

Commissioner Rob Manfred had MLB begin a study.

A month later at Fenway, another woman, Stephanie Wapenski, needed 40 stitches to close facial wounds inflicted by a foul line drive.

In December 2015, as Manfred approached his first anniversary on the job, he publicly issued a recommendation that teams extend protection to at least the near edges of the dugouts. All 30 did so for the start of the 2016 season.

But there hasn't been a league mandate or uniformity on extended netting, say MLB and team officials, because of the varied configurations of the ballparks and the contention of some fans that netting detracts from experiences they enjoy in seats close to the field.

"Core fans who pay the top dollar for the best seats have been opposed to netting," said Dave St. Peter, president and CEO of the Minnesota Twins, who added that all teams covet good relationships with those fans.

But the Twins, a leader among teams in extending netting, were pushed early by owner Jim Pohlad to analyze the problem, St. Peter said. "He was more than willing to take the risk of alienating some of the best fans. Most rewarding is that the fans most opposed decided to give it a try; they felt relaxed, and it didn't inhibit their enjoyment."

Minnesota is extending netting it already had to the far ends of the dugouts last year at Target Field, which features seating that is especially close to the action. And the team, like others, is adopting a camouflage-like color for netting to better blend with the greens and browns of the fields.

St. Peter said that while "it's hard to gauge and we don't have firm data [on the blocking effects of the Twins' netting so far], there's no question anecdotally that balls and even bats would've been in the stands."

The Yankees, who declined to comment for this story, offered to pay Jacobson's daughter's medical expenses and have already done so for bills insurance didn't cover, Jacobson said. He expressed appreciation for the team and for Frazier, who called every day while his daughter was in the hospital and remains in touch.

Jacobson, an attorney, said he hasn't initiated any litigation over his daughter's accident and doesn't know whether he will.

Historically, when injured fans have sued, the defense for MLB and teams has been the longstanding "Baseball Rule," whereby fans assume the risk, as noted on the back of tickets. But there are current, ongoing challenges in the courts.

As for the health challenges ahead for Jacobson's daughter, he said she'll have periodic appointments with a neurologist for years, and the hope is she won't have long-term issues from the head trauma.

"My daughter is the toughest person I ever met," Jacobson said. "She has met every challenge and endured all the pain and discomfort without much complaint. I am in awe of her every day. It's really a miracle and nothing short of a blessing to watch my daughter laugh and play and be a 2-year-old seemingly without a care in the world.

"One day, my daughter will be old enough to process all of this, and maybe she'll even write her college application essay about it. I hope 15 years from now, when she writes it, that the story is about how she was the last person to be seriously hurt at a baseball game, or at the very least, it was a turning point for taking fan safety seriously. Many teams extended netting after her injury, so there is definitely some good that has come of it. We just want the story to finish with a positive outcome."