Royals add more safety netting at Kauffman Stadium

The fresh netting will extend close to 90 feet, the same length as a base path, an extra barrier of protection for thousands of baseball fans in Kansas City.

Two months after Major League Baseball recommended that all of its teams add netting to protect fans at games, the Royals announced Wednesday they are bringing such netting to Kauffman Stadium this season.

When the Royals open the season at home April 3 against the New York Mets, fans will see a slightly altered look along the first- and third-base lines.

The additional netting is already partially in place. According to club officials, it will begin at the corners of the old backstop screen behind home plate and extend at a 45-degree angle to the end of each dugout. The installation is expected to be completed in the next month after a couple weeks of testing.

By announcing the new safety measure, the Royals become the latest club to add netting to the vulnerable areas in the lower levels of stadiums. The Phillies were the first team to say they would add netting. The Cubs and Rays have also said they would follow the recommendations, which came in December after the league office began a review of the issue last summer.

“We took a lot of different scenarios into consideration regarding the addition of netting at Kauffman Stadium, because we know that our fans take different approaches as they decide what they want their Royals experience to be,” Kevin Uhlich, the Royals’ senior vice president of business operations, said in a news release.

“MLB engaged an outside source to evaluate all MLB stadiums and make recommendations for additional netting, and our plan exceeds all of those recommendations. We encourage any fans who may be affected by this change to reach out to their ticket account representative.”

For years, the topic of fan safety at baseball games has simmered, with baseballs (and occasionally bats) regularly flying into the stands at high speeds. The construction of baseball stadiums left many fans unprotected, just 50 or 60 feet from home plate. For years, though, clubs desired to leave the seats behind the dugout with unobstructed views.

The proliferation of smartphones, said Mike Swanson, Royals vice president of communications and broadcasting, was among the factors that changed the calculus.

Baseball teams have traditionally issued pregame warnings about flying baseballs and other objects traveling into the stands. Most paper tickets also feature such disclaimers. But with more and more fans distracted by phones and tablets, those warnings often went unheeded.

In 2014, a Bloomberg News report found that about 1,750 fans were injured every year by foul balls, a statistic that has included fans in Kansas City. At a Royals game in 2011, a 4-year-old girl suffered a fractured skull after being struck above the left eye by a foul ball off the bat of Wilson Betemit. The girl was hospitalized and later fully recovered. The same season, a 64-year-old Royals fan suffered facial fractures when she was struck by part of a shattered bat.

Last summer, a season-ticket holder with the Oakland A’s filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, asking the league for extended netting down the lines. A collection of players, including former Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, have also been vocal on the issue, saying the nets should be extended to the far end of the dugout — at minimum.

In response to the 2015 lawsuit and a scary incident in Boston around the same time, the Royals said last year that they had considered more netting but would wait for more guidance from the league office.

That guidance came in December at the winter meetings, when the league recommended protective netting for any field-level seats within 70 feet of home plate.

“It is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter,” commissioner Rob Manfred said then. “This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pregame and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.”