Six-year-old Riley Neyer, her mother, and grandfather made the drive Sunday morning from the Jersey Shore to catch a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. It was to be just like when Riley's grandfather, Bob Gillece, would take his daughter, Erin Neyer, to games when she was a child.
But Sunday ended with a scare when Erin Neyer was struck in the mouth by a foul ball after she pushed Riley out of harm's way.
It was the second straight Phillies game in which a foul ball struck a fan, and it came hours after shortstop Freddy Galvis criticized the team for not providing protective nets behind the dugouts that would prevent such incidents. A young girl was struck in the face on Saturday night by a foul ball hit by Galvis into almost the same area.
Galvis threw his arms in the air late in the game Sunday when a ball hit by a Cardinals batter sailed into the stands behind the third-base dugout, Section 130.
Gillece was sitting in the upper rows of the lower level, waiting to get the attention of his daughter and granddaughter, who had moved back to their seats after a rainstorm passed over the ballpark. He wanted to tell them that he was headed to the concession stands. Gillece then saw a foul ball skid off the top of the rain-soaked visitors dugout near third base and zip into the crowd.
He was not sure if the ball struck his family, but a crowd had formed near where they were sitting. Gillece raced to the bottom of the section. Everything happened so fast, he said.
"I didn't know what to do. I was worried about Riley. I knew I had to take care of her. She was just staring. Her eyes were as big as silver dollars. My daughter was crying. She was hurt. That was her first instinct, to protect her daughter," Gillece said.
"You just feel so helpless. Here it was supposed to be a day at the ball game with mom and pop-pop like mom used to do when she was your size. I know that sounds corny and everything. It's hard to put the feelings into words. As a father, you just want to make it go away. You want to make things better. You want to be able to do something. You want to be able to help. But there's nothing you can do."
Erin Neyer, 36, was taken to the first-aid station inside Citizens Bank Park, where she was examined by a doctor. Her lips were swollen, and her mouth was full of cuts and contusions. Neyer, who lives in West Creek, N.J., and coaches high school field hockey, saw her dentist on Monday afternoon. That was hours after going to an important job interview.
The baseball that struck Neyer was swiped by someone, her father said. A pair of Phillies ushers presented Riley Neyer with two new balls that were retrieved from the dugout. The staff could not have been nicer, Gillece said. The Phillies, who extended the netting behind home plate by 10 feet before the season, said they are considering extending it farther. Gillece said he hopes they do.
"Don't even wait until next year. It's not like it's the biggest obstruction in the world," Gillece said. "Plexiglass at a hockey game bothers your vision more than netting. You won't even notice it."