Despite discussion about extended netting picking up after a young girl was injured by a foul ball last week, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred does not expect in-season changes at ballparks.
There has been increased discussion about extended netting around MLB since last week, when a young girl was stuck by a foul ball at Minute Maid Park in a game between the Houston Astros and visiting Chicago Cubs. Following that injury, many MLB players called on the league to take action by enacting more extensive protective netting standards at ballparks, including some that favor running netting from foul pole to foul pole. The extended netting at Minute Maid Park meets MLB standards, running to the far end of the dugout, but the girl and her family were sitting just past the end of the netting down the third-base line, leaving them exposed to foul balls in their seats seven or eight rows back.
Manfred discussed the situation on Tuesday, saying that he does not expect teams to extend netting at their ballparks during this season, citing the difficulty involved in the process. He did add, however, that dialogue about extended netting could continue into the offseason. More from the AP:
“Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” Manfred said. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with ‘beyond the dugout,’ I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But, there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”
Following recommendations from MLB, by the start of the 2018 season all 30 teams had expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts after several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017. The latest injury has sparked renewed debate about whether protections should go down the foul lines.
“It’s very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year, because they really are structural issues,” Manfred said. “But, because safety is so important, I’m sure that conversation will begin and continue into the offseason.”
Extended netting has been a more pressing topic in baseball circles in recent years. For MLB, the most recent surge in extending netting projects came ahead of the 2018 season–following an incident in which a young girl was severely struck by a foul at Yankee Stadium in September 2017. The majority of MLB teams have extended their netting to the far ends of both dugouts, but a few have taken it even further, including the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, who extended the netting all the way down the line. The Boston Red Sox did the same at their spring-training ballpark, JetBlue Park.
While last week’s injury in Houston might not prompt immediate changes to protective netting around MLB, it is already generating discussion about what the league could do going forward. The conversation is one that seems poised to continue, and may ultimately lead to teams implementing further extended netting before the 2020 season.
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