The Huffington Post reported recently on the death of Hayden Walton, a 13-year-old Arizona boy who died after being hit in the chest by a pitch during his little league baseball game. Officials for the league state he took two steps toward first base before collapsing. He died the next morning in the hospital. Walton likely experienced commitio cordis, a rare disruption of heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the chest at a critical time during the cycle of the heartbeat. It does not damage the heart itself or the surrounding organs and is not associated with heart disease.
Baseball is the American pastime and for many it is a childhood rite of passage. The benefits of playing the game far outweigh the risk of injury. Unfortunately, Walton’s death may cause some to question whether baseball is safe. There are certainly statistics that could be used to support the argument.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported on baseball and softball injuries in children in 2001. Their statistics from 1995 estimated 162,000 injuries were treated in emergency rooms that year. 26% of these injuries were fractures and 37% were contusions and abrasions. The rest were strains, sprains, concussions, internal injuries, dental injuries and even some fatal injuries. Between 1973 and 1995, an average of 4 children died due to baseball related injuries. In 92% of the deaths, direct contact with either bat or ball was responsible; the other 8% were due to undetermined causes.
A quick glance at these statistics could convince someone that baseball is not safe. However, a closer look reveals otherwise. According to Little League, annually, less than three-tenths of one percent of Little League players injured need medical attention. Through the 1990s and so far this decade there has not been a single play-related death in a Little League practice or game, even though more than 18 million games and nearly 40 million practices have been held.
Like any worthwhile human endeavor, there are inherent risks associated with playing baseball. No matter how many safety precautions are put into place, there is always the possibility a player will get an injury from getting hit by the ball, sliding, or throwing the ball. That does not mean our children should not engage in the activity. It also does not mean we should blame the organizers every time a child is injured. Good personal injury lawyers conclude that players and their families assume the risk of these types of injuries when they agree to play the game.
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Of course, that does not give baseball organizers the right to ignore implementing safety precautions that are likely to reduce foreseeable types of injuries. Teaching young players to turn away from wild pitches will reduce injuries from getting hit by the ball. Teaching them proper sliding technique and not to slide head first will reduce sliding injuries. Following pediatrician recommendations to restrict the number of pitches thrown will reduce repetitive use or throwing injuries. In addition, using available protective equipment (i.e. helmets, chest protectors, catcher’s masks, rubber spikes, proper fencing, etc.) will help reduce the chance of other types of catastrophic injury.
Parents who still have concerns about safety can have their children wear polycarbonate eye protectors, chest protectors or faceguards on their batting helmets.