With baseball safety standards increasing each year, Greg Coleman knows a mandate for extended netting is coming at some point.
The Erie SeaWolves president decided not to wait for the mandate to come down.
The SeaWolves worked with Erie Events to install extra safety netting this week at UPMC Park.
“The conversation between us and Erie Events goes back to last summer,” Coleman said. “We decided to be proactive about it and provide more safe areas for fans and families. It only took a while to get to this point because of different factors like working out the engineering to do it the right way.”
Erie Events runs the facility at UPMC Park and spent the week installing triangle pieces of netting that extend from the existing net behind the plate to the end of each dugout. The netting also covers two entrances to the field next to the dugouts, which were transformed into door frames covered by nets to still allow field access.
“In addition to the areas being covered behind the dugouts, it’s a big benefit down the first–base line,” Coleman said. “We have a concession stand in that concourse that is now covered from line drives. When you are waiting in line your back is to the field and you may not be paying attention to the game.
“People aren’t going to have a great time at the ballpark if they don’t feel like they are in a safe environment, and we’ve got additional seating that provides cover and security, especially for families.”
Katie Robison has purchased season tickets next to the SeaWolves dugout for the past eight years in section 110. That area will now be covered by the net.
“I was bummed initially because we like the clear view, but I also understand the safety issue,” Robison said. “We chose those seats because when my kids were much younger, they really enjoyed high-fiving the players, but now they are older and have outgrown that stage.”
Robison also said she has sat behind the existing net at certain games and it was fine. She has also seen the other side of sitting without a net.
“I got hit in the stomach once, which left a nice bruise under my ribs,” Robison said. “We’ve had some close calls over the years. My mom got hit in the hand trying to deflect a ball, and we’ve always paid close attention and moved quickly to avoid a ball. The worst was when my kids’ friend was leaning against the wall in the front row and a ball hit him under the eye. Thankfully, he was OK.”
Richard Laurie is a longtime season ticketholder that chooses to sit behind the net in section 206.
“The extended netting is an excellent improvement,” Laurie said. “The last homestand, a friend of mine was struck in her side by a hard line drive. She pays attention to the game and though her husband grabbed at the ball, it was too fast. She is OK but will have a bruise for a while. I have cringed seeing others struck and I’ve had a couple of close calls when I’ve gone downstairs to chat with friends.”
As far as Laurie’s view through the net?
“My view is still sharp and it’s nice to be able to turn the head and say something to my neighbor or take a sip or bite without worry of a screamer taking some teeth,” Laurie said. “It would not bother me to see the net extended even further if only to keep fans from grabbing balls in play.”