One of the sights I've always enjoyed is parents and their kids heading towards the turnstiles. A small arm reaches up for the protective grasp of an adult's hand and together they weave through the crush of another sellout crowd. Often the child's free hand proudly displays a glove ready for action, ready for the only souvenir that really matters.
I have no idea how many baseballs end up in the stands during a game, although some recent casual observation with a very small sample size puts the number between twenty-one and thirty-eight when you include foul balls, home runs and ground-rule doubles. Where you sit makes a difference, too, since most foul balls end up down the first- or third-base line. Still, I think it's fair to say that most of those gloves go home empty. Not my friend Jackson's though.
That's Jackson in the accompanying photo, proudly displaying the Jacoby Ellsbury home run that he neatly snagged back in June. His seat was just behind the bullpen and this ball was a line shot that came screaming in, according to Jackson's dad.
"I saw it leave the bat and I thought, 'Hey, we may have a shot at this.' But when I realized how fast it was coming, there was no way I was reaching for it. Jackson flashed the leather, and the next thing I knew he was holding the ball!"
Jackson made a great catch and got a nice hand from the crowd. His dad made good decision not to risk his own bare hand, according to Dr. Charles S. Day, Chief of Orthopaedic Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
"I do sometimes get a bit apprehensive watching a baseball game, especially on those foul line drives near the dugout. There's so little time to react. And it's natural just to throw your hand up to protect yourself."
While injuries to the hand and wrist happen quite regularly, Dr. Day was quick to point out that batted balls are not high on the list of causes. In fact, if you hurt your hand at the ballpark, or anywhere else for that matter, it would more likely be due to a fall.
"All of us have tripped and fallen at some point, and what do we do? We put our hands out to protect ourselves. It's such a common injury that in Emergency Rooms it's noted on a patient's chart as a 'FOOSH injury:' Fall On Out-Stretched Hand. Some of the most common diagnoses from FOOSH are hand and wrist fractures. In fact, an epidemiologic study done in the United Kingdom demonstrated that three of the top five fractures involves hand or wrist bones."
Many of those injuries happen to teens and young adults as the result of skateboarding, inline skating, and snowboarding mishaps. Another at-risk group is the elderly, with older women four times more likely than older men to sustain bone fractures. Osteoporosis is certainly a factor, and diminishing coordination may be a contributing factor as well. But there are ways to mitigate the risks.
"The motto is 'use it or lose it.' Staying active helps maintain the integrity of your musculoskeletal system," said Day. "Aerobic exercises alone are not enough. Adding some kind of resistance training, like weights, is a good way to help maintain bone density. It's what I recommend to my own parents and grandparents."
And what is it that Dr. Day would recommend if you happen to find yourself at the park with a ball headed your way?
"If you don't have a glove, using your cap is an option," Day said. "Or you just might want to wait until the ball bounces off someone else before you try to grab it. Often the first person who touches the ball isn't the one who comes away with it."
Yeah, they can come away with a painful memory. As for me, I'm too old to bring a glove. I figure, I'll bring Jackson and take my chances.
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.