Iowa Cubs plan to extend netting for 2020 season

When the Iowa Cubs added precautionary netting to extend to each end of both Principal Park dugouts back in 2016, team president/general manager Sam Bernabe did it with the intention of one day extending the nets even farther.

Bernabe, someday, wanted to extend the nets all the way down to both foul poles, protecting even more fans from balls and bats flying into the stands.

The day is coming.

Bernabe said the Cubs plan to extend the nets all the way down to both fouls poles for the start of next season.

The move has been in the works for quite some time now, but the precautionary measure has become a national subject after Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. laced a line drive into the stands that hit and injured a young girl.

Bernabe said his organization has been talking about making the move long before the scary situation occurred in Houston this week.

“I remember having a conversation with Andy MacPhail when he was the president of the Cubs — that far back — about running nets down,” Bernabe said. “So we’ve been giving it consideration. It’s been on my radar for a long time.

“The fan safety is just something we really work at — whether it’s just coming to the game and walking down the concourse or going into the bathrooms or heading into the parking lots or just walking around the stadium. Everything is important from the standpoint of fan safety. We don’t ever want anybody to come to the game and then leave in any different shape than when they came.”

Netting around parks entered the forefront of the safety conversation this week after Almora’s line drive into the stands.

Almora, who played for the Iowa Cubs in 2016, was emotional after seeing the line drive go into the stands. He then broke down, hugging a security guard when he got an update on the injured fan. The incident has prompted plenty of debate about whether more protected netting needs to be added to ballparks.

As far as Bernabe is concerned, it’s not a debate. It will happen at Principal Park.

The club has been preparing to make the move for a while.

Prior to the 2016 season, the Cubs extended the backstop netting to both ends of the dugout as an added safety measure to fans.

The move came with Major League Baseball’s recommendation that all major-league teams and their affiliates extend the netting prior to Opening Day for the 2017 season.

The Iowa Cubs, who were under no obligation to do it, not only did but did it a year ahead of time.

And when Bernabe had 50-foot poles added outside the park, he did it with the intention of extending the netting more. Bernabe hopes to have it done for next season.

“I’ve been working on this for about 10 months and we’ve got some more opinions back and we need to put some more bracing in or another couple of poles,” Bernabe said. “There are just a variety of things that we’ve been working on that it’s not going to allow me to put them up this year — I don’t believe. If I do, it would be toward the end of the year. It just takes some time to put together.”

When it does happen, there could be some negative responses from fans. Bernabe said he got it when he first added the netting the dugouts.

“The first call I got was from my insurance agent saying ‘Thank you,’” Bernabe said. “And then the second few calls I got were from disappointed season ticket holders, but we understand.

“Once they went up, I had maybe three conversations from people suggesting that maybe they’d want to move to outside the nets. They didn’t want to look through them.”

Bernabe said he gave the fans the option to either move or give up their season tickets. He urged them to try the seats first.

In the end, no one had to be moved and everyone kept their season tickets.

“From that standpoint on, just about every conversation I had with anybody was thanks for putting the nets up,” Bernabe said. “They were sitting in a spot that would have taken a line drive right in the chest or wherever.

“There are families that come to the ballpark and there are gatherings of people that come to the ballpark and there are young kids. As good as an athlete as you think you might be and as good of a baseball player as you ever thought you were, there isn’t anything that’s going to prevent you from getting drilled with a 100 mile an hour line drive.”

Bernabe is hoping the netting can help that.

And while the nets may force the Cubs to make some changes with promotions with items being thrown into the stands, Bernabe said he’s confident the creativity of his staff will allow them to find new ways to get fans involved.

The only drawback may be access to players. But that’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.

“The protection of the fans is going to outweigh the access to the players,” Bernabe said.

Bernabe said he’s spoken to other general managers throughout minor league baseball. He said some are willing to make the move to extend the netting but believes not everyone will be on board. But Bernabe isn’t waiting.