Off Topic: Protective Netting In Baseball Is An Idea That’s Time Has Come


Jul 5, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; A fan tries to catch a foul ball during the eighth inning in game one between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After a woman at a Boston Red Sox game nearly died after being hit with a bat, the time for protective netting down the foul lines at stadiums has come.

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First, apologies for tagging this Off Day Off Topic; the Colorado Rockies don’t get an off day for another week, and rather than holding onto this post, I wanted to remain relatively timely with it.

Now that we’ve got that taken care of, it’s time to address what so many have in the past week — protective netting around  baseball stadiums — in light of the recent life-threatening injury of a Boston Red Sox fan who was hit with a bat that flew into the stands. The woman will make a recovery, thankfully, but Major League Baseball need not wait until something far worse happens before making necessary changes to the fan experience.

The fact that players wanted nets put up to protect fans in the first few rows of seats from bats and balls should tell you something; nobody better understands than Major Leaguers themselves how dangerous bats and balls are as they fly into the stands .These guys hit the ball very, very hard, and balls (and bats) are moving at a rate well beyond the physical ability of the average fan to catch it/avoid it/not get hurt.

I get it, one of the best parts of going to a big league game (unless you’re up in the Rock Pile) is the idea you could get a foul ball, or catch a home run, or go out early and sit in left field for batting practice. The relationship between players and fans — often times directly the result of interactions around giving away a baseball — is something unique to baseball.

But that uniqueness shouldn’t come completely at the expense of fan safety. Recent foul ball deaths elsewhere in baseball have prompted the call for safety netting similar to that which already exists in Japanese leagues, and it’s time for Major League Baseball — and the minor league affiliates — to do so.

Owners — and most fans — don’t want netting to detract from the fan experience, as the Dallas Morning News wrote several years ago after a foul ball death in an independent league game:

"Despite the obvious dangers, there’s been little debate about whether baseball teams should put up protective netting to shield fans sitting close to the field along the first-base and third-base foul lines.The vast majority of professional baseball teams at all levels limit protective netting to the area behind home plate. Team officials believe fans – especially those who buy high-priced seats near the field – don’t want a net separating them from the grounds. It could limit their chances of snagging a souvenir ball or getting a player autograph.Therefore, extending netting from behind home plate all the way down the foul lines is not on baseball’s safety agenda."

I know, a several-foot tall net extending 100 or more feet down the foul line would be an adjustment to the fan experience for sure, but a little bit of an adjustment period more than makes up for avoiding the worst-case scenario at a game. Does somebody really have to die at a big league baseball game before teams seriously consider installing nets down the lines?

We’ve all been down the lines at baseball games where people aren’t watching the action. As die-hard baseball followers (and you’re likely pretty die-hard if you’re perusing Colorado Rockies blogs in your free time), you or I go to a game and pay attention to every pitch, because (a) we actually understand the game of baseball and we want to watch how the action and strategy develops every at-bat, and (b) we understand how hard balls get hit.

The average (maybe below-average) fan doesn’t do that. You’ve seen the kind — the guy, or gal, who goes to the game with their friends and chats about how much they hate Cindy over in Human Resources the entire time, only looking up in the seventh inning with the Rockies losing 5-4 to say, “oh man, this team is bad! Just another poor season for the Rockies. Where’s Todd Helton?” without, you know, ever understanding what’s actually going on in the game.

That same fan is the one who isn’t paying attention every pitch, and when Carlos Gonzalez hits a foul ball 110 mph into the fourth row down the right field line, that’s the same fan who risks getting seriously hurt.

Look, I know, you can’t protect everybody — the idiot fan sitting 30 rows up not paying attention wouldn’t be protected by a five-foot tall net, and nobody anywhere is advocating for fifty-foot tall nets (as far as I can see) to protect the entire stadium.

But clubs can do a little bit to protect fans right on the field who may not understand or follow the action well enough to protect themselves, as well as look out for kids and others in vulnerable seating areas that won’t have time to react to line drives right at them.

The National Hockey League made necessary changes to their net policy behind goals only after it was too late; baseball should not wait for a tragedy to protect fans in such a common sense way. Oh, and I’m about 99% sure players will still be able to toss balls over the several-foot high nets to fans between innings, if that’s your thing.

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