Heads up at the old ballgame
There are signs all over the lower level of PNC Park and in professional ballparks across the country.
Heck, you are even warned at area high school and little league games about the dangers of foul balls and flying objects leaving the playing field.
On April 20, 2015, Wendy Camlin bought a ticket to the Pittsburgh Pirates game against the Chicago Cubs. She assumed the same risk as 30,000 other fans who bought a ticket that night.
Only thing was, Camlin wasn’t sitting in Row Z of Section 312. She was less than 90-feet away from the action.
In the front row of the Lexus Club at PNC Park, fans are closer to home plate than the pitcher is. That’s where Camlin was in the second inning of that spring evening nearly one year ago.
Remember that she assumed the same risk as someone in Row Z of Section 312 – even behind a protective netting.
Camlin, with her back turned away from the action while going to her seat, was leaned up against the protective netting and was struck by a foul ball, off the bat of Cubs (now New York Yankees) shortstop Starlin Castro.
Camlin immediately went down and was attended to by medical personnel for 23 minutes, which stopped the game. She was sent to UPMC Presbyterian by ambulance, treated, and released the next day.
She hadn’t really been heard from in the public eye since then. Until this week -11 months later.
Camlin is suing Major League Baseball and the Pirates.
The lawsuit says Camlin suffered a concussion, traumatic brain injury, migraines, neck pain, tinnitus, anxiety and other symptoms as a result of the foul ball, which she said hit her in the back of the head because she was facing away from play and following an usher’s instructions as she took her seat, according to the Tribune-Review.
Camlin, who lives in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is receiving backlash on social media for bringing this incident back up and seeking money for her own negligence.
But, in reality, who wouldn’t want to be compensated in a situation like this?
There’s at least one person, a family, rather, who accepted what happened to them at a baseball game in 2009.
Four-year old Luke Holko and his parents were at a Mahoning Valley Scrappers minor league game in Niles, OH on a summer evening. Sitting in the front row, down the first base line, the Holko family was in prime foul ball territory.
Unfortunately, little Luke caught a foul back in the back of the head.
I covered this incident and Luke’s road to recovery when I was working for the Warren Tribune-Chronicle, a sister paper of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.
I spent time with Luke, the family, members of the Scrappers front office and even Ben Carlson, the player who hit the foul ball. It was a sad situation, but one that eventually had a happy ending.
Holko still receives treatments and takes medication, while wearing a leg brace, but operates in other facets of life like a normal now-10 year-old.
Not once did the Holko family consider pressing charges against the Scrappers, or Carlson.
It was a total accident. An accident that could happen to anybody.
“It just happened so quick,” Chad Holko, Luke’s father, told me. “I heard the crack of the bat and next thing you know he’s limp in my lap.
“You couldn’t react. It was a split second.”
Added Luke’s mother, Nicole, “”You’ll never forget the sound of it,” she said. “Leaving his bat and the sound it made when it hit him. Every time I hear a hit or see a foul ball, I cringe.”
The accident hasn’t stopped the Holko family from going back to games. In fact, the Scrappers have a special “Luke Holko Night” once a year where he gets to join the team for batting practice, in an official jersey, and throw out a first pitch.
Also, Carlson keeps in close contact with the Holko family and visits their home in northern Trumbull County once a year.
“People would ask us all the time, ‘How can you talk with him? How could you be friends with him? Why aren’t you suing him?'” Nicole said. “From the second Luke got hurt, we were worried about Ben. As a mom, I couldn’t imagine being his mother knowing what he was going through. We had no hard feelings. It was completely an accident. It was nobody’s fault. As parents, we felt bad for him knowing what his parents were feeling for him.”
Back to Camlin in Pittsburgh. She actually did have someone looking after her at PNC Park. An usher directed her to the front row seat. He just did it at the wrong time.
For the past few seasons, the Pirates organization has been requesting that fans only leave or return to their seats during a stoppage in play or during an inning break. Ushers are usually stationed at the top or bottom of each section enforcing this policy.
The rule may not apply in the Lexus Club, which is behind the protective netting. If you have ever watched a Pirates game on ROOT Sports, you will constantly see people walking up and down the section and the throwback jersey-wearing, mustache-donning vendor throwing peanuts and cracker jacks to fans.
You’ll even see the fans sitting back there trying to dodge balls flying at the net, knowing full well they are safely secured. The ball hit by Castro did not break a hole in the net. Rather, coming at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour, the ball pushed the net back into Camlin’s head.
She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
And, like Holko’s incident, this was a pure accident.
(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)