Extending Netting At MLB Ballparks—My Take On It

It’s something I noticed when I went to the Colorado Rockies game on Saturday, August 3, 2019. There was netting behind home plate. I knew exactly why it was there. It was to keep me, and all the other patrons sitting behind home plate, safe from foul balls.

From what I remember, the whole netting debate started in 2017. I remember discussing it during a public relations class during the fall 2017 semester at my university. I also vaguely recall seeing a Tweet from a family member thanking the Colorado Rockies for putting fan safety first during that time.

In 2017, a toddler was injured by a foul ball at a game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. Todd Frazier said that he wanted foul ball netting extended to protect fans from foul balls. During the 2017 All-Star Break, the New York Mets extended netting at their home ballpark. Also, in May of 2017, a bill was introduced to mandate extended foul ball netting.

Nearly two years later, another spectator was hit by a foul ball, this time during a game between the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. Albert Almora, Jr. was devastated by what had happened and had to be comforted by a teammate and ballpark staff. In the wake of the incident, a Houston lawyer mentioned that fan safety is a major concern and that they hoped the Houston Astros would do whatever it takes to protect fans.

My opinion on the whole netting extension debate? I absolutely support it. At least from my perspective, it’s a wonderful way to keep fans safe. The thought of getting very badly hurt from a foul ball is on my list of the top nineteen most horrifying thoughts. I felt extremely safe when I saw those nets from behind home plate at Coors Field.

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Protective netting at City Field in New York City, New York (Credit: New York Daily News)

I recall when I was at a Houston Astros-Colorado Rockies game on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. From what I remember, a foul ball was going near the third-base line and I had to duck my head down and cover my neck. Basically, I was taking an airplane emergency landing bracing position at the ballpark. It was not a fun experience thinking I was going to sustain a barbaric head injury from a foul ball.

A similar situation happened during the Tuesday, May 30, 2017, game when the Seattle Mariners were in Denver. I remember a ball, either a foul ball or one that was in play, was flying rather quickly towards my section. I became afraid for a few moments and thought I was going to get hurt. I was wrong. Seattle infielder Kyle Seager (I’m highly sure it was him) caught the ball, protecting the fans. I’m grateful for that.

I applaud teams such as the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and Chicago White Sox for taking fan safety seriously. Chicago has taken after Japanese stadiums and has netting from foul pole to foul pole. That’s a wonderful idea, in my opinion. That greatly reduces the risk of fans getting gruesomely hurt from fast-traveling baseballs in several parts of the ballpark. While netting at the ballparks in Baltimore and the capital of the United States have a tad less netting, I still appreciate that they are doing whatever it takes to protect fans.

However, in October 2019, sixteen out of thirty Major League Baseball teams, more than half of the organizations in the sport, had only dugout-to-dugout netting. Half of those teams had announced plans to extend netting, leaving eight teams who, at the time, had no plans to extend netting or had plans to just barely extend netting. That is worrisome in my eyes. Foul balls are hazardous. Not only have young spectators been very badly hurt, but I was adamant that I would have similar fates to those fans on two different occasions at the ballpark.

I agree wholeheartedly with Todd Frazier’s opinion that ballparks should have netting protecting fans. I think that all fans deserve to feel safe at the ballpark and not have to worry about getting smacked in the head with a speeding sports ball. One barbaric foul ball injury is far too much. My heart hurts pretty badly when I think about what was going through the minds of Todd Frazier and Albert Almora, Jr. when those two horrible incidents happened. If I were a spectator or a baseball player who had witnessed such a heartbreaking and barbaric event, I would be screaming from a mountaintop about the importance of extended netting until Major League Baseball takes action.

Some people might say that they don’t want more baseball netting because they want to be able to catch more foul balls. I understand where they are coming from. I mentioned in a previous post that I would like to one day catch a foul ball at Coors Field. I have a feeling that it probably won’t be possible at all, depending on where I am sitting, due to the netting and I completely accept that. I would prefer to be safe than risk getting hurt.

People might be tempted to say, “Well, I’ve caught many foul balls and I’ve never been hit in the head by one!” I absolutely see where that comes from since very few people have hurt themselves while trying to catch a foul ball. However, literally hundreds of people have been hurt by rapidly flying balls in the last several years, a number much too high. I would much rather that people not get hurt, whether it be barbaric head injuries from getting smacked in the head by a 104-mile-an-hour foul ball or skinned elbows from falling on the steps catching a rogue ball.

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Protective netting being installed at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois (Credit: Chicago Tribune)

Another huge argument is that netting is completely unnecessary and that horrible injuries are preventable by fans by fans just paying extremely close attention. While I agree that being aware of your surroundings is a good idea, paying attention alone is absolutely no substitute for extending netting. Even with the best of intentions, unexpected events can happen. This is applicable in so many situations.

Pretend you’re making popcorn. Even if you’re being as careful as you can be, it’s possible to accidentally burn a few pieces of popcorn. Now imagine you’re taking a precalculus test. Even if you’re checking your work closely and following the test instructions carefully, it’s still possible to slip up and make a mistake you won’t be aware of until after the instructor grades it. Lastly, picture yourself giving a speech. Even though you might be careful to follow the script and make eye contact with your audience, you can still become distracted or stumble over some words.

Being a spectator at a ballpark is extremely similar. While fans do take steps to stay safe, there are a lot of things that can distract them. Their eyes can wander from time to time. They might stop for a few minutes to purchase a blackberry limeade slushie or a baggie of cotton candy from a vendor. In addition, some people might not have the reaction time to dodge a speeding ball. In addition these balls fly so fast that it’s hard to predict when to get out of the way and where to go to avoid getting severely injured.

The distraction thing is something I as a fan can attest to. There is so much to see at Coors Field. It’s easy for me to get distracted by the signs advertising their support of the Denver Zoo. In addition, the sunsets are so beautiful that I can’t get over how much I adore baseball skies. As someone who loves taking photos of games, I enjoy taking photos and videos of enjoyable moments. I do everything I can to pay attention to the game, but sometimes my attention drifts elsewhere despite my best intentions to keep my focus.

Given those circumstances, and the fact that it’s not exactly easy to predict when and where to rush to avoid getting hurt from a speeding ball, it isn’t quite realistic to tell people to just pay attention and they won’t get hurt. I think Sean Doolittle said it best that it was unrealistic to say to pay attention and that teams have an obligation to keep their fans safe.

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A netting expansion proposal at Kauffman Stadium in Kanas City, Missouri (Credit: New York Daily News)

Another potential argument is that the netting obstructs the view. I totally understand where this comes from. Netting in photos and videos isn’t the best-looking, and I can partially vouch that from taking a photo where the window screen really obstructed the view. However, I have three quick questions.

Would you rather have your view be obstructed or would you rather see someone be in pain from being hit in the face? Would you rather have some netting in your photo or would you rather end up in the ICU clinging on for dear life from a barbaric head injury caused by speeding foul ball? Would you prefer netting in your Snapchat story or would you prefer to create a GoFundMe to pay for your gravely hurt family member’s hospital bills after taking a foul ball to the forehead? In all three instances, I would take the former.

I completely understand why some people really don’t like the idea of netting at ballparks, however, I will be a netting proponent for the years to come because I don’t want to get hurt at the ballpark and I would never wish any spectator get hurt in such a horrifying manner.

What are your thoughts on ballpark netting? Do you see it as an unsung hero or an unneeded obstruction? Let me know your stance and why in the comments.

SOURCES:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mlb-teams-need-to-extend-their-safety-netting/2019/10/05/0ada8646-e6d6-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html

https://www.northjersey.com/story/sports/mlb/yankees/2017/09/22/todd-frazier-phones-father-toddler-injured-foul-ball-yankee-stadium/694926001/

https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/cubs/ct-cubs-albert-almora-girl-hit-20190626-uexh4vmrhrhptky7patv2kbwse-story.html

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