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Safety of Orioles fans back in focus after scary foul ball incident in Houston

The foul ball that seriously injured a child at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night quickly became a sad and poignant national news story and refocused attention on how far Major League Baseball should go to protect spectators that are close to the field.

The image of the young girl being carried out of the seating area and a bereft Albert Almora Jr. breaking down after seeing the result of the foul ball he lined into the stands touched a nerve in the Orioles clubhouse, as it surely did throughout the major leagues.

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“We saw the scene with the Cubs/Astros the other night. … It was terrible,’’ outfielder Trey Mancini said. “To be in Almora’s situation, obviously it’s something you’re not trying to do. You’re just playing a game, but it weighs on you. It was very tough to see that whole situation play out.”

Manager Brandon Hyde extended his sympathies to the young girl and to Almora, who he knows well from his years with the Cubs.

“Oh man, that was tough to watch, obviously,’’ he said.

Such instances have increased in recent years, in part because the fans are closer to the action at a lot of the modern ballparks and also because many are more likely during the social media age to look away from the action to use their cell phones to text or post something on social media.

“I’m all for the protective netting,’’ Mancini said. “Whatever measures will make it safest for the fans I think they should do.”

Major League Baseball has pushed clubs to extend that protective netting to at least the end of each dugout, but this kind of incident is certain to increase the clamor to take that initiative further — perhaps extending the netting as far as each foul pole.

“I think they’ve done a nice job up to this point,’’ Hyde said. “We always thought over the dugouts had to be protected, especially when you coach first base at Wrigley, where they (the fans) are right on the field and you would see night after night balls shot up into the stands and people getting hit constantly.

“So when they put the nets over the dugout, we all thought that was a huge deal and that it was very, very necessary. To extend them further, I would be in favor if they would like to do that. You see people get hit all the time. Now, you’re talking about a 4-year-old girl. That’s just an awful situation.”

Orioles general manager Mike Elias, who met with reporters before the game to discuss the upcoming draft, deferred to Major League Baseball when asked whether he expected any further changes at Oriole Park, which already has extended the netting well beyond the two dugouts.

“I’ve seen the amount of work and research that Major League Baseball puts into this issue,” he said, “and I trust them to arrive at the right conclusion, one way or another.”

Dwight Smith Jr. said Friday that he knows what it feels like to hit a fan with a foul ball and it isn’t good.

“That’s something we can’t control unless they put the nets further down the line,’’ Smith said, “because a lot of people don’t pay attention to the game. They’ll be on their phones or doing something not watching the game. I’m surprised more people don’t get hit, because there’s not the awareness that a ball could hit them at any time.”

Hyde’s day off

Hyde will turn the lineup card over to Tim Cossins for Saturday’s game so he can attend his daughter’s graduation in Chicago.

“Missing one game,’’ he said. “I don't know if I’ve ever missed a game, so it’s a little strange, but I’m looking forward to going home and seeing Aria’s graduation. It’s just one of those special things; a family thing you want to do.”

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Someone asked him who is next in the line of managerial succession if Cossins gets ejected.

“I have no idea,’’ he said. “We probably should talk about that.

Around the horn

The Orioles entered the series against the Giants with the most double plays turned (58) in the major leagues. That stat sounds good on its face, since it reflects defensive efficiency, but it also if a reflection of the number of base runners allowed by the pitching staff.


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