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I have chosen to stray from my usual theme of Napa, my hometown, as it was a long time ago, and discuss the game of baseball.

The subject is timely because the major league teams will soon be reporting to spring training.

I have been a baseball fan since I first played the game as an 8-year-old. I was a member of the Napa High Indian baseball team during the 1946, 1947 and 1948 North Bay League seasons.

Because there were no major league baseball teams west of the Mississippi River until 1958 when the SF Giants and LA Dodgers both moved to California, my favorite team while growing up in Napa was the Oakland Oaks, a Pacific Coast League team.

Since their move, my favorite baseball team has been the San Francisco Giants.

In my many years as a fan, I have seen a few changes in the way the game is played but, overall, it is played much like it was when I was a youth.

What has changed, however, are the stadiums, the abilities of the players and the equipment.

Compared to yesteryear, major league stadiums are huge, some with capacities of up to 60,000 spectators. The players are arguably more talented than those of the early days. Balls, bats and player equipment have certainly improved but, even more noteworthy, are the actions taken to protect the players.

Some time ago, I read an article from USA Today headlined “MLB to address bat safety.” According to the article, Major League Baseball hierarchy is concerned about baseball bats made from the maple tree.

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Their Safety and Health Advisory Committee has actually discussed what they think might be “an epidemic of maple bats exploding on contact with the baseball and the barrels becoming dangerous missiles.”

Reportedly, because of this “epidemic” teams have installed netting parallel to the base lines in front of the stands to prevent barrels of broken bats from flying into the stands and injuring spectators.

I don’t doubt the danger that can come from a flying chunk of a broken bat but I found it interesting that the article did not quote any statistics about how many spectators or players have been injured by these “missiles.”

Since my playing days, a lot of things have been introduced to protect baseball players from injury. Starting at the bottom of the body, many batters now wear shin guards while at bat to protect the shin against low pitches.

Further up, hip pads to protect against sliding injuries are now commonplace. Next, comes the cup to protect the male sensitive area against low, inside pitches. Then there is the batting helmet with earflap to protect the head against high, hard fast balls.

I understand that protective helmets have been approved for pitchers to protect them from line drives. Good idea.

For the playing field, stadium owners have padded the outfield walls so the players don’t get hurt when running after a fly ball and colliding with the wall.

If this trend toward player protection continues, players will soon be required to wear safety glasses to protect against dust in the eyes. Then, they will have to wear body armor to protect the torso against errant high-hard ones. Finally, there will be face masks.

Just kidding! It’s a great game and I love it — just like it is.

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Jim Ford can be contacted at jwford571@gmail.com.

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