Kane County Cougars extend netting to protect fans

  • In an effort to protect fans from potential foul balls flying into the stands, the Kane County Cougars have installed netting at Northwestern Medicine Field.

    In an effort to protect fans from potential foul balls flying into the stands, the Kane County Cougars have installed netting at Northwestern Medicine Field. Courtesy of Kane County Cougars

  • Valerie Blaine has retired after 25 years as environmental education manager with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. Her "The Nature of Things" column will continue in the Daily Herald.

    Valerie Blaine has retired after 25 years as environmental education manager with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. Her "The Nature of Things" column will continue in the Daily Herald. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Kane County

 
 
Updated 7/3/2019 3:33 PM

Professional baseball teams at all levels are considering extending protective netting from home plate to the foul poles, or at least well beyond the dugouts.

It became a hot-button issue, as most baseball fans know, when former Kane County Cougar and current Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. smacked a foul ball in Houston in late May that struck a young girl. That young fan continues her slow recovery.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If Almora hit that same foul ball today at Northwestern Medicine Field, the home park for the Cougars in Geneva, it would be stopped by netting that the team finished putting in place just before the Almora incident.

But the Cougars were actually hoping to have the netting up when the season opened. Mother Nature got in the way.

"It was definitely a very wet and cold winter and that wet weather still has not left us, so it definitely delayed things," Cougars communication coordinator Jacquie Boatman said.

The new netting, a thin material that is easy to see through, covers the entire seating area from home plate to where the lawn seats start.

"The netting was extended in April, but not as far as we wanted, as originally intended," Boatman said. "It was completely finished by early May."

So, the Cougars were ahead of the curve on this. They were making moves to protect fans while others were debating it.

It was a smart move because this is a stadium in which the fans are quite close to the action. For as long as baseball has been played, the speed of a line drive coming into the stands is most often faster than most people can react to avoid it.

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"Overall, the consensus is that fans are grateful that they don't have to worry about that anymore; they have the extra safety," Boatman said. "This is a family-friendly environment and sometimes one or two adults are trying to take care of two or three small children or a small group, and this just gives a lot more peace of mind."

I've been for more protection at baseball games for a long time. As a 13-year-old kid, sitting in box seats at Wrigley Field, I watched St. Louis Cardinals' flame-throwing super star Bob Gibson fire a fastball to a rookie outfielder named Byron Brown of the Cubs. This kid had no chance, so he basically stuck his bat out and hit a screaming line drive foul ball the opposite way that went right past our heads.

I turned and will never forget what I saw -- pieces of shattered sunglasses flying in the air and a woman screaming in pain. She had been hit square in the face. They took her off in a stretcher with a blood-soaked towel on her head. I was left feeling queasy and uncertain the rest of the day.

And just four years ago, at a game in Milwaukee's Miller Park, we were sitting well down the right field line. But the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, also a former Cougar, hit a line drive that seemed as if it came out of a bazooka. It got on us so fast, we barely had time to duck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The ball smashed into an empty seat right behind me. A person sitting there would not have fared well.

When that happens near you at a game, the notion that some protective netting would be a good idea crosses your mind. And remember, most fans at games now are monkeying around with their phones. They wouldn't know what hit them.

Always a naturalist:

Valerie Blaine shed a few tears when walking out of the Kane County Nature Center at the end of the workday on June 28. It was her last day after 25 years as an environmental education manager for the forest preserve.

Those of us who have been on nature walks with Blaine, or have read her Daily Herald columns religiously, know this is a person who knows more about nature than most of us could ever hope to absorb.

But her life as a naturalist surely won't end because she has retired from managerial duties. After all, when living with her family in California in the late 1980s, Blaine researched a way to get back to her prairie roots, where she had been a naturalist in Peoria before taking naturalist jobs in California.

"My heart was very homesick for the prairie and oak woodlands of Illinois," Blaine said. She got the call from Kane County in 1994, interviewed with Jon Duerr and got the job.

"This job was unique because I had the opportunity to create everything from scratch," she said. "It was very exciting to build the district's program from the ground up. It was a wonderful experience professionally and personally."

Blaine says she is, at heart, a naturalist. So her job was just an extension of who she is. Being retired won't change that. It actually reinforces it, considering her role as a manager kept her indoors a little more than she liked.

"It is close to impossible to narrow down my favorite part of the job with the district," Blaine added. "One of the best parts was working with a staff of fabulous naturalists to create, develop and implement programs that foster a connection between people and the natural world."

Blaine's column will continue in the Daily Herald. Look for it the third Monday of each month.

'See you later':

Local residents and members of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Batavia who knew Pastor Donald Moll bid their farewell to this inspirational man last month.

Pastor Moll died on June 16 in Boise, Idaho, where he had lived the past six years.

He was a busy fellow at Immanuel Lutheran, having served as its only pastor from 1977 to 1995, and again as an assistant pastor from 2004 to 2013.

His congregation points to him as the person whose discussions, and setbacks, in hoping to improve the church on Webster Street ultimately led to the new building on Hart Road.

It was an important moment in Batavia history when the members of the congregation walked from the old church to the new site as part of its dedication.

Moll's work also resulted in a solid school at Immanuel, a place in which he was known to visit often to read stories to children and engage them in other projects or activities.

As the assistant pastor, Moll did not slow down in his desire to make things better for this Batavia church. He formed a Bible study group, and was active in Voice of Care for developmentally disabled or handicapped children and adults, as well as Mission Central to support missionaries across the world.

In fact, his wish was for memorials in his name to be sent to Mission Central, 40718 Highway E16, Mapleton, Iowa, 51034-7105.

You may have seen Pastor Moll on the move, literally, quite often. He loved to jog and was pleased to tell people he jogged more than 25,000 miles in 30 years.

But people will remember him for his favorite expression, "I won't say goodbye, but I'll see you later."

His family and friends cling to that hope now more than ever.

Helping food bank:

A food bank serving a large geographic region has to count on support and funding from all types of organizations.

The Lake County Community Foundation is one of those, having granted $55,000 to the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva as part of its overall 2019 program distributing $247,000 to local nonprofits.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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