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Outfielders often learn about walls in a crash course

Washington's Bryce Harper is the latest to learn the hard way about how unforgiving fences can be after slamming into the one at Dodger Stadium and requiring stitches under his chin.

May 14, 2013|By Gary Klein

A clean-shaven Bryce Harper stood in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, 11 stitches tracing a line under the chin of the young Washington Nationals star.

The night before, Harper was chasing a fly ball when he crashed into an unpadded part of the right-field wall that features an electronic National League scoreboard covered by transparent plastic and a coated chain-link-style screen.

Harper's legs, shoulder, ribs, hand, wrist and chin were sore, he said, but he did not suffer a concussion. Harper said he would have played through the soreness, but he felt nausea similar to being carsick, so he was held out of the lineup.

Harper, 20, seemed most upset that his beloved beard was shaved to allow medical personnel to assess his condition and administer sutures.

When asked if he thought the Dodger Stadium fence was unsafe, Harper said no.

"I'm just glad there wasn't any rust on it," he said, jokingly.

No one was joking, of course, when Harper lay on the field after the collision Monday night.

Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is among players who have had serious run-ins with walls.

In the Dodgers' 2007 home opener against the Colorado Rockies, Kemp chased a fly ball and ran into the same part of the wall Harper collided with. He suffered a shoulder injury that put him on the disabled list.

"The walls are the walls, they're not made to run into," said Kemp, who suffered knee and shoulder injuries last season when he twice crashed into the wall at Colorado's Coors Field. "But it just happens. I don't know how it could be any more safer. You've just got to be aware of the wall. That's it. That's as simple as it is."

That seemed to be the prevailing opinion in both clubhouses and dugouts Tuesday.

Stan Conte, the Dodgers' vice president of medical services, indicated that keeping players completely out of harm's way while playing was impossible.

"From our standpoint, we'd like to put them all in a vacuum so there's a force field, so nothing happens to them," he said of players. "But I don't think that's going to happen."

Conte said that, generally, outfield walls are safe and that warning tracks provide players an indication that they are approaching the wall. He noted that the screen Harper ran into did have "a little bit of bounce to it" and that there was more give in the surface than in 2007 for Kemp's collision.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, who played 13 years in the majors in the 1960s and 1970s and also managed the Dodgers, said the configuration of the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium was no more or less problematic than other stadiums.

"They used to be not even padded," Johnson said. "Now all of them are pretty well padded. He just happened to get where the chain-link fence is. I don't think the blow was that severe, that's what cut him up."

Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said every outfield in the NL West poses "some type of obstacle," whether it's hard chain-link in Arizona or brick, chain-link and gates in San Francisco.

"I'm not a stadium builder," he said, "but it's tough out there."

Nevertheless, "you just have to know what you're encountering," he said.

The Dodgers this season improved the padding along the foul lines, extending it to the ground so that players do not hit solid concrete if they dive or slide into it while trying to make a catch, Ethier said.

Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford tries to avoid face-to-face meetings with outfield barriers — "I don't do walls," he said — but he does take into account if and how they are padded.

"You've just got to take a look and know where you're at all times," he said. "And know where the ball might land and you kind of guess a little bit and try to play it. Sometimes you go for it, sometimes you don't."

Former Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday said brick beneath the ivy at Wrigley Field in Chicago and the scoreboard at Fenway Park in Boston are among the stadium features that are hazards for outfielders.

Monday advocates for Major League Baseball to adopt standardized warning tracks in every stadium. He does not anticipate the removal of accoutrements that make each ballpark unique.

"They've already made the walls safer," he said. "So which stadiums do you tell them to remove the scoreboards? At Fenway, good luck."

Harper is still learning to play the outfield at the major league level. He is expected to improve the routes he takes to balls and also his awareness of walls.

But Harper's collision will not change the way he plays.

"Even in college … I'd run into walls and get back up and go, 'Holy crap, maybe I shouldn't have done that,' " he said. "But that's the way I play.

"And if I catch a ball and make a great play for my pitcher, even when we're ahead 6-0, it's something that I pride myself on and I'm going to keep playing like that the rest of my career."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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