MLB To Examine Netting, But Solution Not So Simple
Extending the protective netting at MLB ballparks likely will be a "major topic" throughout the rest of the '19 season and will probably be a hot topic "at the GM meetings this offseason" after a young girl was hospitalized when she was hit by a foul ball at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, according to MLB Network's Jon Morosi. It is possible "some further changes" soon come to MLB ("MLB Whiparound," MLB Network, 5/30). The AP's Kristie Rieken noted MLB will continue "examining its policy on protective netting" at ballparks. However, the league pointed out that teams have "significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years" (AP, 5/30). An MLB spokesperson said that the league is "not prepared to respond further to specific calls for foul-pole-to-foul-pole netting" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/31). In DC, Sheinin & Fortier note "virtually everyone" is saying fans’ safety "should be the highest priority but with differing views on how responsibility for it should be shared" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/31). Former MLBer Doug Glanville in a special to NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com noted MLB has been "facing down this issue for quite some time." League officials are "often caught between their power and the power of the teams." There is "not one size fits all because there is no one size stadium." That is "part of the character of your home stadium, but it also makes it difficult to standardize everything" (NBCSPORTSCHICAGO.com, 5/30).
NOT FOR EVERYONE: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale talked to two MLB owners who are "getting calls and emails from fans saying they don’t want any further net expansion, despite Wednesday’s horrific incident." The fans claim they "want to be close to the action with absolutely nothing in front of them." Season-ticket holders are also "telling their clubs they want a completely unimpeded view" (USA TODAY, 5/31). THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal believes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is "inclined to order every team to increase the height of the netting" and "extend it to the foul poles, following the examples of leagues in Japan and Korea." While some teams "already have taken steps" in that direction, some season-ticket holders "complain to clubs that the netting creates obstructed views and a less intimate experience." Some team owners then "express concern to Manfred about losing season ticket-holders." Teams are "reluctant to alienate any segment of their most passionate and invested fans." However, Rosenthal asks, "Why should teams make those fans who do object a priority when satisfying their interests means putting lives in danger?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/31).
CLUB BY CLUB: In Dallas, Kevin Sherrington notes when the Rangers' Globe Life Field opens next year, netting "will extend approximately 150 feet farther than the Globe Life Park screens, which reach to the far end of each dugout." Rangers Exec VP/Business Operations Rob Matwick said that the screens down each foul line at Globe Life Field "may also be taller, matching the height behind home plate." He added that increased fan protection at the new park was "planned long before the latest injury to a fan" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/31). In Ft. Worth, Drew Davison notes Rangers co-Chair & Managing Partner Ray Davis has been at the "forefront pushing for expanded netting, as the Rangers added nets behind the dugouts of Globe Life Park" in '15, prior to it becoming MLB policy (Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/31). Twins President Dave St. Peter and Senior VP/Operations Matt Hoy said that Target Field "uses more netting than is required by Major League Baseball, and that they will reevaluate the need for more fan protection." Hoy said that the Twins "extend netting a little more than 100 feet from home plate down each foul line" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/31). In Philadelphia, David Murphy wrote it "makes sense to extend" protection to fans in the lower seating bowl who are not currently protected at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies VP/Business Affairs Howard Smith "did not rule out the possibility of that happening at some point in the near future" (PHILLY.com, 5/30).
PLAYERS, MANAGERS SPEAK OUT: Astros P and player rep Collin McHugh said that players "support increased safety provisions mandated by MLB and that the sport owes a safe atmosphere to its players and fans." McHugh: "The adjustments they’ve made in the last couple of years obviously have helped a lot with respect to foul balls and balls flying into the stands. ... Anything to protect our game and the people who have come out to watch our game and support us is huge" (CHRON.com, 5/31). Nationals P Sean Doolittle tweeted, "Baseball should absolutely extend the nets down the lines to protect fans. As new ballparks bring fans closer to the action, their safety should be a top priority. As players, we want fans to be able to safely & comfortably enjoy the game without fearing for their safety" (TWITTER.com, 5/30). Rangers manager Chris Woodward: "Somebody is going to get killed, honestly, the way balls are going into the stands; it is scary. I wouldn’t be opposed to nets all the way down. I don’t know if fans would be" (Ft. Worth STAR TELEGRAM, 5/31). White Sox 1B Yonder Alonso said he supports extending the netting at Guaranteed Rate Field “completely all around.” Alonso: “If not netting -- I know the fans want to be close -- just put up glass like hockey. There’s a reason why in our dugout we always have protection, we have a net or a fence" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/31).
IF NOT NOW, WHEN? In Chicago, Bruce Miles writes, "Given what happened in Houston Wednesday night, it's high time for Major League Baseball to extend the netting in their ballparks." Netting in Japan is "so good that by the time you get used to it, you barely notice it" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 5/31). The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly notes the outfield bleachers at ballparks are "fine as is." Those fans are "looking straight at any incoming missile." But there "should be netting running all the way down either foul line" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/31). CBSSN's Adam Schein: "It's solely about the safety of the people watching the game. Baseball needs to do the right thing" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 5/30). ESPN's Trey Wingo: "Why does Major League Baseball need something like the death of a child for this to happen?" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 5/31).
Protective netting at MLB parks was discussed on all three network news shows Thursday evening. NBC's Miguel Almaguer mentioned MLB expanded the minimum requirements for netting in '17 but noted some players are saying "it may not be enough" ("Nightly News," NBC, 5/30). ABC's Linsey Davis noted Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes netting "should be around all of the stadiums in the league" ("World News," ABC, 5/30). CBS' Mola Lenghi noted MLB is "protected from liability by what's called the 'Baseball Rule," a 100-year-old disclaimer that basically says, 'Fans go to the games at their own risk'" ("Evening News," CBS, 5/30).