Jury Ruling For Fan Blinded By Foul Ball Doesn’t Alter MLB’s Plan For Increased Safety Netting

A jury ruling last  week that involved a fan being blinded by a foul ball during Cleveland Indians game will not alter how Major League Baseball plans to go forward with increased safety netting.

The fan, Keith Rawlins, of Rochester, New York, was not awarded any monetary damages by the jury in the case. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul initially ruled in favor of the Cleveland Indians in the case, at which point Rawlins appealed Gaul’s decision to the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, which overturned the decision.

The jury not awarding any damages to Rawlins has had fans and media speculating as to whether the slow march of getting netting expanded past the dugouts might be halted. Currently, nine clubs have installed expanded netting including the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and this week the St. Louis Cardinals joined the list

Reached for comment, executives at the league said that Commissioner Manfred’s stance has not changed since I interviewed him earlier this month. In that interview (see As Fan Injuries Gain Visibility, Rob Manfred Talks Increased Safety Netting At MLB Ballparks), Manfred indicated that the trend of increased safety netting would continue.

“Our position has always been the same,” Manfred said in March. “Fan safety is a very high priority for the league.” At issue, he said, was how each ballpark is designed and the installation of increased netting. “This is a very difficult issue to regulate with a single set of ‘rules’ because of the differences in the various stadiums as they were not initially designed to have this increased netting. So while we did make a recommendation on certain minimum standards, we have been working with the clubs individually to encourage them to look hard at the netting issue in the context of their own individual designs. I think you see some change and it will be addressed in an ongoing basis.”

Greg Bouris, a spokesperson for the MLB Players Association said at the time that, “the MLBPA and its Players encourages and would welcome increased safety netting in all ballparks.”

As to whether there has been a negative reaction by a sector of fans that firmly believe fans should pay better attention instead of installing more netting, Manfred said reactions have changed since additional netting has been installed.

“What the clubs are concerned about is fan reaction around increased netting,” Manfred said in early March. “And I think one of the positive things that we’ve been hearing that has helped encourage people to the change, is fans get used to increased netting. The accepted wisdom was that fans didn’t want to be behind nets and I think as clubs have continued to expand the netting they’re finding that they are, at least, not having long-standing complaints about it.”


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