Mon. County Ballpark ahead of its time

When a person buys a ticket to sit near the dugout at a Major League Baseball game they are putting themselves at risk.

Batted balls find their ways into the stands, sometimes multiple times each half inning, at a blistering rate of speed.

This year Major League Baseball and the safety of its fans have made national headlines; a broken bat flew into the crowd at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts earlier this year nearly killing the fan it hit, and we have seen multiple fans taken out of ballparks on stretchers with serious injuries.

“In the big picture fan safety is the most important thing,” the West Virginia University Baseball team head coach Randy Mazey said. “Any field I go to I try to make the fans around me aware to pay attention. It’s a distance and reaction time thing. People within 50 feet of home plate and not protected by a net, it’s physically impossible for them to react to a line drive.”

This year, WVU opened up a brand new, beautiful baseball stadium in Granville named Monongalia County Ballpark.

But when the Mountaineers took the field for the first home game in Mon. County Ballpark history on April 10, which ended in a thrilling 6-5 victory for WVU in the 13th inning, they may have been playing in a stadium that was ahead of its time in regards to fan safety.

“It was a real easy decision to think about fan safety first,” Mazey said. “After a short discussion is was a unanimous decision to protect the fans. Every stadium is different. We tried to take every safety precaution necessary when we designed (the new stadium), and I think we did a really good job.”

At most major league ballparks, the netting behind home plate stops at or before the beginning of the dugout on both the first and third base sides. However, at Mon. County Ballpark the netting stretches all the way to the ends of each dugout, near the bases, giving much more protection to fans.

“There probably needs to be some sort of safety code that says if someone is within a particular distance of home plate they need to be covered by a net,” said Mazey.

Mazey attended just about every meeting and was in on almost every discussion that had to do with the building of the new stadium.

“My biggest thing going into the design of the stadium was to make it really, really fan friendly and give everybody a good experience,” Mazey said. “I wanted the fans to be at field level and as close to home plate as I could.”

Fans are close to the field, but screens protect fans at Monongalia County Ballpark more so than at a lot of other baseball stadiums in the country.

Asked if he was going to continue to let one of his sons, Weston, who is better known around the ballpark as “Whammer,” sit with him and the rest of the team in the dugout Mazey said, “Yeah. I love having him around.”

Mazey himself does operate with caution, especially while Weston is in the dugout, but he also said, “Our guys on our team do a fabulous job making sure he’s protected while I’m coaching third base. They take it upon themselves to make care of him, and that’s why I love our team so much. I love having him in there.”

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