Netting extension announcement comes as more MLB ballparks are taking greater measures to protect fans from foul balls and flying bats during games.
The Toronto Blue Jays announced Monday plans to expand the protective netting at Rogers Center. The extended netting, which will stretch to the outfield corners of each dugout and raise by 10 feet behind home plate, will be in place in time for the team’s home opener against the Yankees at 3:37 p.m. Thursday, March 29, 2018.
According to a statement issued by the Blue Jays, they made the decision to make this move “as part of our ongoing commitment to providing fans with a safe and enjoyable environment at the ballpark.”
An article in Forbes Magazine published in September 2017, indicated that ten MLB stadiums have installed extended netting – and five announced on one day (following a tragic foul ball incident at Yankee Stadium) their plans to install netting in 2018. At the time the article was written, the Toronto Blue Jays told the writer, “This off-season we will take the time to further assess our safety netting, but no concrete decisions either way right now [sic].”
It is a hotly contested topic, with lines clearly drawn between baseball “purists” who feel that extended netting will disrupt their sightlines and impact their enjoyment of the game and safety experts – as well as many MLB players themselves and the MLB Players’ Association – saying that anything that can be done to ensure the safety of fans is the right move to make.
A Mind Changed
I, myself, was once on the side of the purists. Here’s what I said about the issue in 2016.
My argument then, and the major argument people make now, is that you should be paying attention when you’re at a baseball game. In fact, I interviewed paramedics who work at Pittsburgh Pirates games at PNC Park who told me that people paying more attention at baseball games would solve a lot of the problems they encountered. And a lot of fans feel the same.
But the bottom line is 1.) It’s unrealistic to think that you can get 25,000+ people to do the same thing at the same time and 2.) Even paying attention sometimes doesn’t help.
And the results are devastating. For the victim, their families, the player who hits the ball or loses grip on/breaks the bat and both teams playing the game.
Another important thing to remember is that, while some people – like season ticket holders – are familiar with their seats, the stadium, the game, etc., a lot of people attending baseball games may be coming for the first time. I make it a point to visit MLB parks every chance I get and until you’ve watched a lot of games, in person, in a place, it’s hard to in any way judge where a ball is flying when it enters the stand. And again, and this is important, no amount of paying attention can protect everyone from every foul ball. If you need proof of that, look up the number of pitchers hit by a comebacker last season. Think they aren’t paying attention?
But My View Will Be Ruined!
The Blue Jays’ statement indicates that “the new state-of-the-art netting is designed to blend into the background and provide greater visibility, ensuring fans can remain close to the action in a safe manner, without compromising the viewing experience.” I absolutely believe it can be done. Because I’ve seen it in Pittsburgh.
In 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates debuted extended netting that stretched to the ends of each dugout at PNC Park. Here’s how it looks:
There are a few more cables, but truly and honestly, it does not in any way interfere with the view of the game. I purposefully selected a seat behind the netting for this game to judge the impact – and there was none. Well, maybe one. I did see it stop a few foul balls…
No one likes change, and certainly baseball is about as perfect a game as there is. But balls are flying off the ends of bats at record-breaking speeds, some people think bats are breaking more than they used to and ballparks are constructed to get fans closer to the game than ever before. All of those factors, combined with distractions like mobile phones, people trying to get in and out of their seats, servers bringing hot dogs and sodas to fans in the stands and an untold number of other things going on at a baseball game cause fans to take their eyes off of the game. And if there’s a way to protect them from grievous injury, even death, that’s as simple as extending netting, it’s irresponsible not to do it.
*Featured Image Credit: udo.d UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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