Lakewood BlueClaws extend protective netting at FirstEnergy ballpark

LAKEWOOD – Fans taking in a BlueClaws game this spring will notice something new at FirstEnergy Park.

The Class “A” minor-league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies extended the protective netting around the park to the end of each dugout.

The move, which will keep more foul balls out of the stands and fans safer in their seats, was done in October said Greg Giombarrese, director of communications for the BlueClaws.

“The nets are 36-feet high and run from the far end of the third base dugout to the far end of the first base dugout, meaning fans sitting behind the dugouts are now behind the net,” said Giombarrese.

There has been a recent push to expand netting in major league ballparks for fan safety, which is trickling down to their minor league affiliates.

Minor League Baseball is the No. 1 family-friendly sporting event in the country, according to a SportsBusiness Journal survey. Major League Baseball is second.

But a foul ball can ruin the national pastime for a family in a hurry, such as was the case for the Pavlinecs of Jackson when Alexis Pavlinec was hit square in the face with a stray ball at FirstEnergy Park in 2014. Pavlinec, who was 10 at the time, was standing at the food court when the ball hit her.

The ball fractured her skull.

“She still gets occasional headaches,” said Ken Pavlinec, her father. “She wants no part of baseball or softball.”

Pavlinec said he has not been to a BlueClaws game since the incident, which made national news.

“It definitely soured me. I’ll never forget the sound when the ball hit my daughter,” he said.

After a toddler was hospitalized from a 105-mph foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 20, the debate to extend the netting was at the center of the national pastime.

Frazier, a Toms River native, became an advocate for extended netting following the incident, which can be seen in the above video.

Yankees followed suit by lengthening the netting at the stadium, a move announced on Wednesday.

The increased coverage will include partially retractable netting attached to the roofs of both dugouts and stationary netting extending beyond the far ends of the dugouts toward the foul poles.