It seems to be a more common thing to hear about these days – fan hit with foul ball, fan struck by broken bat, child hospitalized by line drive. It’s awful to hear about, even more so to see. It’s stressful for fans and parents sitting in at risk sections and it’s unnerving for the players to see that their bat or ball has injured someone. With players hitting the ball farther and with greater exit velocity, it brings up the question – Why wouldn’t the MLB extend the protective netting from foul pole to foul pole after some of these incidents started to happen?
Currently, the MLB mandates that the protective netting be extended in every professional baseball stadium from dugout to dugout. Extra protective netting is determined on a stadium-by-stadium basis. However, the number of incidents has still been too high. This July alone, a 3-year old was sent to the hospital after being hit by a ball and a 2-year old was hit by a foul ball that fractured her skull. Last August, a Dodgers fan died of her head injury caused by a foul ball. Whatever the cost of extra netting is, it is not more than a traumatizing injury to a fan, or even the cost of a life.
Pitchers are throwing the ball faster and harder while batters are stronger than before, creating higher exit velocity and greater chance for a broken bat. Foul balls and broken bats are making their way into fan sections that didn’t always get baseball projectiles. Add that to closer seating and more distracted fans (I blame smartphones and social media), and it’s only a matter of time before the next spectator is hit. It is said that a typical foul ball enters the fan sections with speeds over 100mph. That gives some fans less than half a second to react, and that’s only if they are paying attention!
In addition to some MLB stadiums, I have been to Triple A and Double A baseball games with my family in Scranton, Binghamton, and Albany where foul balls reached the seated sections at dangerous speeds. We even saw a terrible incident where a young gan, sitting only 4 rows back from the first baseline, was hit with a bat that got away from a batter as he swung. I really am surprised that the netting does already extend from the dugout to the foul pole. Baseball games have a ton of other things going on to distract fans – vendors shouting, mascots roaming around, fans getting up and down from their seats to walk around the stadium, big screens pulling in fan attention. And that’s without smartphones!
Baseball players, coaches, and owners are concerned for fan safety first and foremost. That’s why the Chicago White Sox are the first team to implement foul pole to foul pole protective netting. They installed it during this past All Star break, and have had mixed reactions to it. Most fans and players appreciate the effort for safety, but there are those that feel the netting takes away from the game. Chances for catching foul balls and getting autographs are limited with the netting. Also, if the netting is run down the foul line from home plate to the pole, modifications to game play will have to be made. If a batted ball hits the netting, it’s foul. However, if it hits the ground fair and then bounces foul, a player has to play off the netting. Chicago is treating the new netting as more of a prototype, which will most likely be modified for the 2020 season, but is a major first step in the move toward the extra fan protection. Pittsburg, Washington, and Kansas City have also announced that they will be extending their netting this season as well.
I wonder what you think about the protective netting. Comment below and tell me what your thoughts are on this topic!