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Baseball Netting in the Spotlight – Again

12 Jun, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The news that a little girl had been struck by Albert Almora’s foul ball in Minute Maid Park brought up once again the debate over netting around baseball parks. When will parks actually safeguard spectators? Can there actually be too much netting?

Unfortunately, unless (and until) a world leader is struck and killed by a flying ball, it is unlikely Major League Baseball will create any hard and fast rules.

After all, there have been scores of fan injuries – and at least one recent death directly attributable to a ball strike. In fact, about 1,750 fans are injured each year by foul balls at MLB games, according to one study.

And while MLB seems reluctant to take further action, other organizations are stepping up. With the NCAA Baseball Regionals ready to roll into town, Texas Tech Athletics took the time to do a review of its netting, according to KCBD in Lubbock.

“Something like what happened yesterday, just as an administrator, as a parent, and as a fan, you look at those things and it bothers you. You’d hate to think that would ever happen to somebody at our ballpark," Robert Giovannetti, Senior Associate Tech Athletic Director, told reporters. “We are working with a netting company and we’re looking at ways we can improve the safety every year. We look at all of our facilities, what we can do differently, and how we can improve the fan experience.”

Proponents of safety netting at MLB venues have united behind Andy Zlotnick, who was struck in the face by a ball in 2017, and who has since become the voice of a movement to increase netting. Zlotnick, who lost a case against the New York Yankees when he challenged the “baseball rule,” the fine print on the back of each ticket that says fans forfeit their right to compensation from any injuries that occur as a result of batted balls. He is also the media go-to following each injury – a distinction he says he wishes were not necessary.

In the last five years, MLB parks have been expanding their protective netting as a result of the increasing publicity (partially fueled by social media) as a result of injuries caused by baseballs and bat shards that flew into the stands. Here is a review of what each park has done.

Still, it appears it’s not enough. Shortly after the incident at Minute Maid Park, ESPN noted, “Here's the truth: Even the most astute baseball fan would have difficulty getting out of the way of a line drive when it's traveling 90 mph or 100 mph or 110 mph. Almora's foul ball reached the stands in barely a second. Knowing that, it's not a surprise that Bloomberg News estimated around 1,750 fans each year get hurt by foul balls and broken bats at major league games. The girl here wasn't the only one struck Wednesday; a man at Dodger Stadium was hit in the head by an Alex Verdugo foul ball as well.”

The problem isn’t confined to the U.S., but it appears in Japan, at least, they’re more proactive about safety. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Japanese baseball stadiums do have foul-pole-to-foul-pole coverage. Also in Japan, according to Forbes, when a ball clears the netting. ushers warn fans with whistles and horns.

The Tribune also noted that other sports have made concessions to safety as well: “Football has nets that go up in the end zones when a field goal or point-after kick is attempted and down immediately after, but that is at least as much about retrieving the ball as protecting the fans. (Those things aren’t cheap.) The NHL ordered netting behind its goals after the 2002 death of a teen struck by a puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets game two days before her 14th birthday.”

The fact that some fans continue to complain that netting obstructs their view has fueled the MLB’s continuing resistance to it. But following the incident at Minute Maid, an emotional and shaken Almora spoke to reporters. “I want,” he said, “to put a net around the whole stadium.”

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