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Play Ball...Safely. Pro, College Stadiums Expand Netting to Protect Spectators

7 Mar, 2018

By: Michael Popke

In recent months, several Major League Baseball teams — including the Oakland A’s, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians— announced plans to extend the protective netting at stadiums that separates fans from the action.

Then came the February announcement, straight from Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, that all 30 teams will extend the netting in their ballparks to the far end of each dugout. The move is based on recommendations the commissioner made in 2015 and follows several incidents of spectators being struck by foul balls.

Last September, a 1-year-old girl at Yankee Stadium was injured by a 105-mph foul ball off the bat of the Minnesota Twins’ Todd Frazier and taken to the hospital. Asked after the game if more netting should be required, future 2017 American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge simply replied, “We need it.” One of Judge’s foul balls struck a fan last July.

As some news outlets reported, a 2014 study by Bloomberg revealed that about 1,750 spectators are hurt each year by batted baseballs. Most injuries are minor, though, and require no serious attention.

Minor league ballparks and college baseball stadiums are making changes, too.

“Many of our ballparks already exceeded the recommended levels of protection for seating areas and many of those that weren’t at the time the recommendations were made [in 2015] have added netting,” Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s senior director of communications, told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.

In October 2016, the netting at the College of Charleston Baseball Stadium stopped at the front of the dugouts. “When the Cougars took the field [Feb. 16] for their first game of the season, the team had a new netting system that extended to the end of the dugouts,” the paper reported. “The netting and the new padding on the outfield walls cost just under $100,000. … Other schools, such as the University of South Carolina and Coastal Carolina University, also have protective netting that extend[s] to the end of the dugouts.”

“We were going to do this anyway, but the things you see with children getting hit by foul balls further validates that decision,” College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts said.

Of course, some fans won’t be happy about the perceived obstructed view — an issue the York Revolution anticipated.

As part of the Atlantic League (an independent league not affiliated with any Major League team), the Revolution recently announced that not only will it extend the netting at PeoplesBank Park in early April, but it also will replace the stadium’s current netting with a material that is thinner and shaded green to reduce distraction while still offering protection for spectators.

“We are baseball fans ourselves, and we know how important it is to have those great views of all the action,” Revolution president Eric Menzer said in a statement. “We have been very deliberate in making sure our solution offers the very best in protection and safety without taking away from enjoyment of the game. And the fans to whom we’ve already communicated this change have expressed their appreciation for addressing both of those concerns.”

“The only argument against netting extending toward the dugout is that it’s the slightest of inconveniences, and you’re not used to it,” Grant Brisbee, an editor for SBNation.com, wrote last September. “It’s different, and it protects people at the cost of the tiniest slivers of your potential enjoyment, which you aren’t willing to give up, especially if it means changing something. If that’s your argument, reexamine your life.”

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