Some ballparks have extended netting foul post to foul post
To Whit Merrifield, it’s “a no-brainer.”
Terrance Gore wishes the Major League Baseball powers-that-be would “just freaking prevent it.”
To Nicky Lopez, the Royals’ rookie infielder who fouled off a pitch with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers last season and hit a young fan, it’s “a shame.”
Among the Royals players themselves, this is the consensus: To protect fans from foul balls and shards of broken bats, MLB teams should extend the protective safety netting from the edge of the dugouts all the way down to each foul pole. Some clubs, like the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals, recently announced plans to do so.
It all revolves around safety. In late May, a foul ball hit by Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. in Houston struck a 2-year old girl, who suffered a fractured skull, subdural bleeding, brain contusions and a brain edema, according to CNN. Last season in Los Angeles, 79-year-old Dodgers fan Linda Goldbloom was hit in the head by a foul ball and died four days later from her injuries.
As such extreme cases make headlines, players and some fans alike have begun pushing clubs to take more preventative safety measures.
At Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, sections unprotected by the current netting, leaving fans exposed to line-drive foul balls, include Nos. 110-116 down the third-base line. That’s where McMinnville, Oregon native Judy Dunn was sitting for Tuesday’s Royals game.
She said she would feel safer if the net was strung to the foul pole. Sean Martin, a St. Louis native who was sitting in a similar seat on the first-base line, agreed, adding that “it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”
The problem, at least in terms of architecture: It’s not always that easy.
Royals vice president of publicity Toby Cook said the team has “no plans at this time to change the netting in the near future.” Doing so, he said, might obstruct fans’ views because the netting would need to be strung at a higher angle, rather than at eye-level, where many fans currently see it.
“Plus, all of those cables that hold it up,” Cook said, “you can see it extending it right up to that side. To extend it any further, you might have cables going all over the place. So it’s under review at this point.”
Per league rules, the Royals have done what’s currently advised and are free to make their own decisions on the netting. Every team is. In 2015, Kansas City obliged MLB’s recommendation — not a mandate — to extend the netting out to the end of each dugout in advance of the 2016 season.
Cook said the Royals were one of the first teams to comply. Every team did eventually, but at many venues, the move only lengthened the netting some 70 feet in each direction.
The result: Scores of fans seated along each baseline remain vulnerable to hard-hit foul balls. According to MLB Statcast, most balls come off bats in the mid-90 mph range. In part, that’s why several Royals players said they wish clubs would extend their stadium’s netting.
Take it from Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier, who mans what is colloquially known as the “hot corner.” He’s more than used to dealing with screaming line drives and ground balls hit in his direction.
“I have trouble getting out of the way of some balls, and I do this for a living,” Dozier said. “Those balls are coming at me hot, and I don’t expect (fans) to get out of the way or even see every single ball that gets put in the play.”
Merrifield said he feels the same.
“It’s a shame, because (mishaps are) preventable,” Merrifield said. “It’s a freak accident, you could say at the time, but it’s preventable. I don’t understand why teams are dragging their feet about it. So it’s frustrating for us as players. I’d like to see it change.”
For his part, Cook said the team discusses the topic “every year.” The questions Royals officials ask each other, Cook said, include, “Are we good with where it’s at right now? Should we extend it? Do we wait for a recommendation from the league?”
“I know that for us, with the Royals, we’re looking at it,” Cook said, “but we don’t know how it’s going to play out at least in the short term.”
Part of Cook’s job is to encourage fans, especially those seated in parts of the stadium where more foul balls fly, to pay attention. It’s easy to get distracted, he said, by many things. Phones. Friends. Somebody a few seats over.
Fans are subject to the “Baseball Rule” when they attend games. Basically, it states that clubs aren’t responsible for injuries fans might suffer while at the stadium. Signs in certain sections advise as much.
Most fans are aware of the risk. That includes Darryl White, a Royals fan who chose to sit in section 140 for Tuesday’s game.
“I get two sides of the story,” White said. “I purchased these tickets. I’m sitting here. I have the opportunity to get hit with a baseball. But also, the MLB has chances to adapt to the current state of the game to do something safer for the fans — extend the nets, do whatever.”
In that sense, there is some agreement among players and fans. The specifics are difficult to nail down, at least for the time being, according to Cook.
Merrifield and Dozier see the drawbacks of waiting.
“People say ‘Watch the game. Pay attention,’” Dozier said. “But it’s a baseball game. Baseball games are slow. You’re going to look down, you’re going to check your phone, you’re going to talk to whoever you’re sitting next to. You’re not going to pay attention the whole time. So if you’re sitting that close, where foul balls can get hit, then I think there should be a net.”