City Councilman Rafael Espinal’s new bill would rightfully force Yankees, Mets to extend netting at stadiums

In Philadelphia it took a player demanding the ballclub do more to protect the fans after his foul ball injured a young girl. In St. Louis it took a man losing the sight in one of his eyes, the result of a screaming foul ball over the dugout.

Both of those franchises responded to the incidents by extending the protective netting in their ballparks to the far ends of the dugouts this season, something Major League Baseball should have made mandatory for all 30 teams by now.

So what will it take to get the Mets and Yankees to do the right thing and offer their fans similar protection?

Maybe it will take the action of City Councilman Rafael Espinal, who is introducing a bill into legislation that would make it law for all ballparks in New York City, minor league as well as major, to extend protective netting all the way to each foul pole.

Espinal, who explains his reasoning in a column in the Daily News, is in a position to exert influence merely by introducing the bill into legislature.

For once the bill is introduced, it goes first to the consumer affairs committee, of which Espinal is chairman. As he said, that pretty much assures the bill will pass in committee and go to the vote of the full council of 51 members, at which point it would need 26 votes to pass.

Finally, if it passes in full council, Mayor Bill de Blasio would have to sign it into law, and then, said Espinal, “teams would have to comply in order for the building to be considered safe for occupants.”

However, Espinal admits he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that. He’s hoping this action will put enough pressure on the Mets and the Yankees, as well as Major League Baseball, to spur action, perhaps come to agreement on adding more netting.

“I don’t want to have to legislate this,” Espinal said by phone. “I would rather have the teams take this opportunity to do it themselves.

“Other teams are doing it. I’m baffled as to why this is such a big deal for the teams here in New York.”

In fact, there are nine teams now in the major leagues that have extended their netting to the far ends of the dugouts, which is farther than what MLB has made mandatory.

Five teams, the Phillies, Cardinals, Braves, Astros, and Pirates, added it for the 2017 season, following the lead of the Rangers, Twins, Nationals, and Royals the previous year. In addition, the Yankees’ Triple-A team in Scranton-Wilkes Barre is one of many minor-league teams that has extended its netting.

As mentioned, the Phillies received pressure to do so after Freddy Galvis called out the team in response to his foul ball hitting a young girl near the dugout. And the Cardinals responded after Rick Cusick, a man whose injury I detailed in a fan safety column in January, lost his sight from a line drive to the eye as he was sitting right behind the visitors’ dugout.

Meanwhile, the foul-ball injuries continue to make news. Last week a woman in San Diego was hit in the head, while sitting just behind the visitors’ dugout, by a bat that slipped out of the hands of Hector Sanchez.

The woman’s husband was also hit by the bat as he sat next to her. The game was delayed 13 minutes while the fans were treated medically, before being taken to a hospital for further treatment.

As the incidents have piled up in recent years, teams continue to react. In some cases it has been more proactive, out of fear of one of their fans suffering serious injury.

As Twins’ communications director Dustin Morse explained to me in January: “As an organization we just decided we couldn’t sleep well at night if the ballpark wasn’t safe for our fans and we didn’t do anything about it.”

Yet the Yankees and Mets continue to resist. Though they won’t speak publicly about it, privately they’ve indicated their fans don’t want to sit behind netting behind the dugouts, in part because they want to be able to interact with players, who toss balls to them between innings.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told me in January that he gets more emails from fans protesting the extended-netting issue than on any other subject.

However, teams that have added the netting say there has been little protest from fans, if any, especially with the finer, less-visible netting that has become available in recent years.

Even some MLB officials acknowledge privately that it seems inevitable all teams will eventually extend their netting, but Espinal thinks the issue is too important to allow teams to continue putting it off.

The city councilman credits Andy Zlotnick, a New Yorker who suffered a serious eye injury at Yankee Stadium, and an advocate for fan safety who has helped me research the subject, for making him aware of the seriousness of the matter.

“I just think it’s time,” Espinal said. “There have been too many incidents. I’m trying to prevent someone from actually becoming a victim and dying at a ballgame.”

It’s something a lot of baseball people fear these days, given the seriousness of some of the injuries the last few years, as foul balls go screeching into the stands, many at a rate of speed too fast for fans in seats close to the field to react and protect themselves.

As other teams continue to act on that fear by making the ballpark safer, it’s past time the Mets and Yankees do as well. Perhaps soon they’ll have no choice.


About Redden Custom Netting

In 1958, John Redden started Redden Net Co. Ltd to supply commercial fishing gear to the fishing communities of the Pacific Northwest. Now, more than fifty years later, we have an in-house net loft staffed by professional, experienced net builders – and our executive team has more than 100 combined years of experience in every facet of industrial netting. So no matter what industry you’re in, if you need a net, we can build it.

Over the last fifty years, our technology, applications, and materials have become more complex, but our business philosophy remains simple. Treat employees and customers – right.  We do. And we’ll do it for you.

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