ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Neil Smith and three of his four children enjoyed a nice Tuesday evening at the ballpark.
Sitting in the front row of Isotopes Park’s Section 205 down the third base line of the stadium – upper deck seats with an unobstructed view of the field shaded from the evening sunset in the west – Smith and his kids enjoyed the show.
But he was also well aware that the only thing between them and a good 30-plus-foot drop to the seats below them was a 30-inch railing that came well below his waist when standing up in front of his seat.
“This seems a little low if somebody is going to lean over for a foul ball or something,” Smith admitted, grabbing hold of the top of the short rail in front of him. “But you don’t need to be sitting here if you aren’t aware of that.”
Baseball clubs around the country, including the Isotopes, are re-examining their facilities to make sure they are as safe as can be in the wake of Monday’s tragedy in Atlanta. During a rain delay between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, 30-year-old Ronald Lee Homer Jr. fell 85 feet to his death at Turner Field.
Investigators believe the fall was accidental, but are still trying to determine exactly how Homer fell. Friends say the 6-foot-6 Homer was likely on the fourth-level walkway having a cigarette at the time of the fall over the 42-inch rail.
There have been more than two-dozen instances of fans suffering significant falls from upper decks of stadiums since 2003, according to the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents.
One of those led to the death of firefighter Shannon Stone in July 2011 at a Rangers game when, in front of his 6-year-old son, Stone fell over a railing at The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, trying to grab a ball tossed to him by then-Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton. The railing in front of Stone’s front-row seat was 34 inches.
The Albuquerque Isotopes are knocking on wood, thankful not a single such fall has occurred at their stadium in that time.
“Safety is our primary concern,” John Traub, Isotopes general manager, said. “We certainly want people to have a good time. We certainly want to promote fun and entertainment and good baseball. But everything has to be done under the guise of safety.”
When stadiums around the nation are built, be it by private or taxpayer financing, there are safety guidelines that must be adhered to. The International Building Code, the industry standard, adopted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, calls for railing in front of seats to be a minimum of 26 inches and those in the outer edge of stadiums – walkway and concourse areas – to be a minimum height of 42 inches.
The Journal on Wednesday measured the railings at Isotopes Park.
The railing in front of upper deck seats was 30 inches and between 42 and 44 for the walkway areas.
Traub agreed with Smith that he would hope there is a certain amount of responsibility assumed by the fans coming to games – watch for balls or bats that could fly into the stands, don’t lean over railings, etc.
Still, he says he and his stadium go out of their way to take every precaution it can to keep fans safe and keep them reminded of the risks of being at the ballpark.
Throughout Isotopes Park there are signs advising fans to watch for foul balls and pay attention to the game. There are also frequent announcements from the public address announcer about safety.
“There are known risks to coming,” Traub said, “but we’re very proactive to advising people of the risks.”