In recent weeks, a wave of extended netting announcements has had interesting implications on professional baseball, and more changes could be in store before the 2020 season.
While there has been discussion for years about the place of protective netting in ballparks, calls for teams to provide more protection at their facilities have grown louder since an incident in May in which a young girl was injured by a foul ball at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Around Major League Baseball, there has been a noticeable uptick in teams making changes to their protective netting. The Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals have taken action during the season, while the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, and Kansas City Royals have all publicly stated plans to do so in the near future.
For professional baseball, this marks the first major wave of extended netting projects since those completed prior to the 2018 season. Leading up to the 2018 campaign, numerous clubs extended netting at their facilities, coming on the heels of an incident in which a young girl was severely struck by a foul at Yankee Stadium in September 2017.
At the time, the action taken by most clubs was to extend netting to the far ends of the dugouts. A few took it even further, however, including the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, who extended it all the way down the line.
Now, most calls have been for teams to go as far as the foul poles, or at the very least extend netting further down the line. The first test of how this will work at the major-league level will take place Monday, when the White Sox play their first home game since the netting at Guaranteed Rate Field was extended to the foul poles.
When they announced plans to extend protective netting in June, the White Sox took the first and perhaps most aggressive step of any MLB team since the incident in Houston. For various reasons—individual ballpark design features among them—it seems unlikely that all 30 MLB teams will extend netting as far as the foul poles. (In fact, Monday also brings the debut of extended netting at Nationals Park that runs farther down the foul line but stops just short of the poles.) However, there have been signs that netting to the foul pole could be a feature implemented at other facilities, including those outside MLB.
In 2020, there will be a few Minor League Baseball facilities that feature netting to the foul poles. The Fresno Grizzlies (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), who previously extended netting to the end of each dugout before the 2018 campaign and then raised it prior to this season, have announced that it will be in place at Chukchansi Park for 2020. This feature will also be implemented at the new Wichita, KS ballpark, which is currently under construction for the relocating New Orleans Baby Cakes (Class AAA; Pacific Coat League) and will open in April. They join the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low A; Midwest League) in offering extended netting, which was added to Modern Woodmen Park in 2017.
It has not been unusual for discussions about extended netting around MLB to have implications on lower levels of professional baseball. In fact, since the injury in Houston, there have also been some affiliated minor league and independent teams to announce plans to extend netting during the season—including the Delmarva Shorebirds (Low A; Sally League) and Cleburne Railroaders (independent; American Association).
As a whole, the last couple of months have been marked by significant announcements regarding protective netting. While the announcements to date have been notable in and of themselves, there could be even more in the coming months, with more teams around MLB and beyond planning major changes to the netting at their facilities.
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