Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward thinks it’s time for MLB stadiums to have expanded protective netting down the foul lines.
So do Rangers players.
All are in agreement with the topic returning to the forefront of baseball following Wednesday night’s Cubs-Astros game in Houston when a young girl was struck by a foul ball.
“Somebody is going to get killed, honestly, the way balls are going into the stands; it is scary,” Woodward said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to nets all the way down. I don’t know if fans would be.
“But if they saw what we saw on a daily basis … they remembered little girls’ faces being blown up and kids getting hit in the chest and not breathing, I think they would be OK with it.”
MLB expanded protective netting to the far end of dugouts two years ago after a similar incident happened at Yankee Stadium.
Now, on the heels of Wednesday’s incident, it’s a question of whether it’s time to be even more proactive. Everyone within the Rangers organization is on board with expanded nets.
“I’d be in favor of it,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “I go to plenty of games, even on the road, where you sit down the line and as much as you want to think you’re paying attention, you look down at your phone, something distracts, and it’s a split-second. I think it makes sense.
“You’ve heard people say, ‘Well, you can’t see the game through the net.’ I’ve always kind of laughed because scouts have watched the game behind the net for however long there’ve been nets.”
The Rangers’ new ballpark, Globe Life Field, will have expanded netting beyond the dugouts. The nets won’t go quite to the foul pole, but the stands start to rise parallel to the foul poles serving as a natural protection layer.
Rangers owner Ray Davis has been at the forefront pushing for expanded netting, as the Rangers added nets behind the dugouts of Globe Life Park in 2015 before MLB made its policy following the Yankee Stadium incident.
Hard foul balls are constantly on players’ minds.
Rangers utility infielder Logan Forsythe has been in the big leagues since 2011 and is all for expanded nets. He recalled an incident in a recent game when he fouled off a backup slider and a kid tried to catch the ball.
“A kid tried to catch it with his glove, and it whizzed right past his head,” Forsythe said. “I’m just like, ‘Kid, it’s coming fast.’
“It’s really, really scary anytime a ball goes into the stands. I feel balls are hit even harder nowadays with velocity and how the game has changed. I don’t notice the nets. I don’t think the fans would notice them. I don’t see why it would be such a hard thing to just take them all the way down the foul lines.”
Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. was the batter who sent the ball whistling into the stands Wednesday. He was visibly shaken when he saw the young girl being carried out. It’s a scene every ballplayer seems to have pictured whenever a hard foul ball leaves their bat.
“As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her,” Almora told reporters after the game. “Right now, I’m just praying, and I’m speechless. I’m at a loss for words.”
Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo is known for his monstrous home runs and power. He understands part of the fan experience is having balls come into the stands, but he’s well aware of the risk whether it’s off his bat or an opposing player when he’s in the outfield.
“I feel like every other day I’m going, ‘Please, I hope that didn’t hit anybody,’” Gallo said. “So many balls are coming in the stands quick. I don’t know (if nets should be expanded), it’s up to them, but you just have to pay attention.”
Most fans, though, are paying attention to their phones more than the game these days. That’s why it seems like a no-brainer to go with expanded nets.
Several ballparks in Japan have protective netting from foul pole to foul pole.
Daniels said the ballparks he’s been to in Japan even have ushers who will blow whistles to alert fans when foul balls are headed toward their section.
Rangers reliever Chris Martin played in Japan and recalled that fans sitting down the lines, where there wasn’t protective netting, were given helmets and gloves.
It seems like MLB should follow suit.
“I don’t know why they don’t,” Martin said. “I was reading some of the comments today, and they’re worried about fans looking through a net. I don’t think that should be an issue. The other day, we had a guy break his bat, and a net stopped it from going into the stands. That’s a good thing. A flying bat with a lot of sharp edges could hurt someone bad.
“It’s just unfortunate. I think they can do more.”