Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman once worked in the Dodgers organization alongside Luis Salazar, the Braves coach who frighteningly absorbed a line drive in the face yesterday. “First class,” Riggleman said. “He’s a great man. Just a solid baseball guy. Everybody loves Sally.”
Today, Salazar is recovering at an Orlando hospital, and he apparently avoided significant brain damage. But it was a scary moment, the kind that makes you thankful it doesn’t happen more often, but also wonder how it doesn’t happen more often, particularly with fans sitting close who are not protected by the screen behind home plate.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m amazed,” Riggleman said. “And it scares me to death to see somebody take a very young child, sometimes infant children, not behind that net and not way up there. When something comes at you, your first instinct is back, not cover that child. By the time you cover that child, that line drive has already hit him.”
When Riggleman managed at Wrigley Field, the stands around the dugout were especially close to the playing field. If Riggleman or a member of his staff noticed a young child close to the railing, they would alert security and try to have them moved behind the protective netting.
Despite his concern, Riggleman did not advocate for more protection in the dugout for players. They typically lean on the screen already in place in order to see the game unobstructed, anyway. “To add more now, players are going to do something where they’re going to get visual clearance to see what’s happening,” Riggleman said. “They’re not going to be looking through that very long.”
The dangers inherent to baseball are many. Riggleman expressed concern about third base coaches, who are particularly susceptible to line drives when there is a runner on second base who they have to watch. If there is a line drive in their direction, “the ball has to miss you,” Riggleman said. “You can’t get out of the way.”
Riggleman also worries about an overlooked safety issue - batboys scurrying after foul balls and bats as a hitter swings on deck.
“The thing that scares more than anything is batboys,” Riggleman said. “Not only getting hit by foul balls, but running into a swing. And it’s happened. ... We tell our kids, ‘Look go way around [the on-deck hitter], because you never know when he’s going to take that extra swing. But they forget.”