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Fans react after foul ball hits woman at Tropicana Field

A foul ball off the bat of the Rays’ Joey Wendle strikes a fan in the head, sparking a debate about extended protective netting.
The Rays' Joey Wendle (18) hits a foul ball at the bottom of the second inning against Texas Rangers on Friday, June 28, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. (ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times)
The Rays' Joey Wendle (18) hits a foul ball at the bottom of the second inning against Texas Rangers on Friday, June 28, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. (ALLIE GOULDING | Times)
Published Jul. 20, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Joey Wendle lined a 3-1 fastball into the leftfield seats in the fourth inning on Friday night. The foul ball soared around the protective netting and curved into the barrier separating Section 129 from the the walkways that surround the lower bowl of seating at Tropicana Field.

It deflected off the navy blue barrier, just above a Rays logo, and struck a woman on the right side of her forehead.

Larry Broga, a fan host lead at Tropicana Field, positioned himself between Sections 127 and 129 on Friday night. He watched as the foul ball flew in front of him and landed to his left.

After the foul ball struck the spectator, his team called their command center, which alerted fire rescue and the medical team to respond to the scene.

Related: MORE RAYS: The good news is the Rays only lost one game on Friday. That’s an improvement.

The fan held an ice pack to her forehead as the medical team led her from the stands, Seat 9 in Row JJ of Section 129, to a wheelchair in the walkway. The medical team wheeled her down the aisle between Sections 129 and 131 to exit the stadium and receive further treatment.

The woman was not identified.

The ball flew outside the current protective netting at Tropicana Field, netting that extends to the end of each dugout. Broga said that it would have flown over the netting even if extended farther out.

“A net would not have helped,” Broga said.

Brogan believes the ball would have flown over extended netting and that usually someone would have been able to react quickly enough to avoid injury.

Nearby fans disagreed, saying that the ball came into the stands too quickly.

Jim Wallis, of St. Petersburg, said he would not have been able to respond in time to block the ball if it came his way. The ball sliced toward his seat, a chair behind the barrier and ricocheted off the barrier to strike the spectator in front of him.

Related: RELATED: Another foul ball incident sparks talk about increased safety netting at MLB ballparks

“If you sit up here you know you’re taking a risk,” Wallis said. “I come to four or five games every year and never had a problem like that.”

The Chicago White Sox, the Rays’ opponent on Friday night, extended their protective netting to the foul poles at Guaranteed Rate Field over the All-Star break, making them the first major league team to do so. The protective measure comes after a string of similar incidents at ballparks across the country.

In May, a 2-year-old girl was struck in the head by a foul ball at a game between the Cubs and Astros in Houston. That incident resulted in a skull fracture and bleeding. Last August, Linda Goldbloom died after being struck by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. She was 79.

Wallis said that protective netting would have stopped the foul ball from hitting his neighboring fan on Friday night, but he does not want to see that netting extended at Tropicana Field. Broga is indifferent to extended netting.

“I think they have to do whatever MLB says they have to do,” Broga said.

The Tropicana Field employee noted that he sees incidents like this about half a dozen times every year.

Other fans in Section 129 said protective netting is necessary.

William Shepherd, of St. Petersburg, came to the game with his family. The ball narrowly missed their seats, instead striking the woman behind them. Shepherd said that protective netting is already in use behind home plate, so extended netting may not hinder the fan experience.

“Look behind the plate,” Shepherd said. “That’s a net right there. If they do put a net up, just make sure you can see through it.”

Steve and Rosemarie Middents, a married couple from Seminole, are pro netting.

“There are kids that have been hurt,” Steve Middents said. “I think it needs to be done."

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