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Foul-Ball Injury Likely to Revive Issue of Ballpark Netting Rules

Chicago CubsAfter a young girl was injured by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. during a game at Minute Maid Park, we’re likely to see further debate about the proper locations for extended netting.

The extended netting at Minute Maid Park meets MLB specs, running to the far end of the dugout. But the girl and her family were sitting just past that end of the netting down the third-base line, exposed to foul balls in their seats seven or eight rows back. The game was delayed after the incident, with Almora needing plenty of time to compose himself. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. watched the flight of his foul ball, took one step toward the scene, then sunk to one knee, distraught, his head in his hand.

“As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her,” said Almora, who was consoled by teammate Jason Heyward, the on-deck batter, who knelt to put an arm around Almora.

“I didn’t see it exactly. I heard it though,” said Heyward. “I know that sound. After that you just try to be there for him.”

Eventually manager Joe Maddon emerged from the dugout, and Almora needed another minute even after rising to his feet, before stepping into the box.

The Houston Astros released a short statement on the matter: “The young fan that was struck by a foul ball during tonight’s game was taken to the hospital. We are not able to disclose any further details at this time. The Astros send our thoughts and prayers to the entire family.”

The incident is sure to bring back the debate over extended netting. In 2018, all MLB teams were required to install extended netting to the end of the dugouts, but some teams, including the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, extended the netting all the way down the line, as did the Boston Red Sox at the team’s spring-training ballpark, JetBlue Park. The new breed of ballpark netting is finer than older versions, with fewer large knots to obstruct the views. New netting comes in black or green, but after experienced both this season at Minor League ballparks, we couldn’t tell a difference in terms of color: the finer mesh is what’s key to the experience.

So the debate will be whether to extend that netting and if it cuts down on accidents like the one last night at Minute Maid Park. Given that we have different lengths of netting in play in Major League Baseball and MLB’s compulsion to track every pitch, it should be easy enough to document foul-ball distributions in all 30 MLB ballparks and see if there’s some differential in incidents between the minimum requirement and the extended netting found at Yankee Stadium and Petco Park.

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