City to buy longer safety nets for its pro baseball stadium

New safety netting at Ottawa’s baseball stadium will extend farther down the sides of the diamond in response to changes happening in the big leagues to protect fans from screaming foul balls.

Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of parks, said the current safety netting will be replaced and extended 60 feet on each side of the diamond at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park on Coventry Road. The city is currently accepting bids for the work.

The safety netting at the stadium hasn’t even extended to the home-plate side of each dugout. Fans sitting in the area between the netting and the dugout have been particularly exposed, but even fans sitting in sections on the first-base and third-base lines above the dugouts are in the flight paths of hard-hit foul balls.

It’s not specific to the Ottawa baseball stadium, since only recently have pro ball leagues turned their attention to providing more safety for fans.

Calls for extended netting in the baseball world grew louder after a toddler girl was hit in the head by a foul ball during a New York Yankees game last September. Some major league teams immediately announced they would install more safety netting. The New York Yankees announced plans this week to extend the safety netting at Yankee Stadium.

After the 2015 season, Major League Baseball recommended its teams shield more fans from balls and bats that fly into the stands.

The Ottawa Champions are the main tenant of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. The team plays in the Can-Am League.

Miles Wolff, the majority owner of the Champions and the commissioner of the Can-Am League, said the Ottawa club and the city have been talking about the netting for two years and started looking into it last season in light of the MLB standards.

“We just felt for safety, for every reason in the world to protect fans, we need to live up to them,” Wolff said on Friday.

Wolff said the extended netting should go at least to the midway point of the dugouts, possibly to the ends of the dugouts.

The league, responding to insurance demands, extended netting to the foul poles in Quebec City after a fan was struck in a picnic area years ago, Wolff said.

Wolff said the league hasn’t been contacted by its insurer regarding the Ottawa stadium, but he acknowledged that the liability is “huge.”

The commissioner is selective when it comes to his seat at a game. Wolff said he always sits behind a net.

Champions president David Gourlay doesn’t think fans will be annoyed if they have to watch the game through a net since many already choose seats behind the net.

“If you go to one of our average games, we have a concentration of fans sitting behind home plate because they like that visual,” Gourlay said.

There haven’t been any serious injuries caused by foul balls at Champions games, he said.

Gourlay likes that the city is replacing the existing “eyesore” netting with something that provides more safety.

“I’m really happy to hear the city is moving forward with the netting,” Gourlay said. “Fan safety is our No. 1 priority.”

The city is responsible for buying the new netting but won’t know how much it will cost until the contract competition is complete.