PNC Park’s protective netting extended; Coonelly cites fan safety concerns for decision

A baseball traditionalist and purist at heart, Pirates president Frank Coonelly long was against extending protective netting around the field.

Coonelly called it “a struggle internally” to change his position, both within the organization — and at home.

“In my own family over the past several years,” Coonelly said, “we had one proponent for (extra) netting, my wife, and one proponent for, ‘This is old-time baseball. We don’t need it,’ me.

“But I have finally come around to our fans’ safety being our No. 1 priority.”

Thursday, eight days before the Pirates 2017 home opener, workers were installing cables that will support the extended netting at PNC Park. Netting that used to be confined to a small area behind home plate will be lengthened to the end of the dugouts.

For a variety of reasons, Coonelly and the Pirates determined the timing was right for the change. The club this offseason added additional fan seating in a former photographers’ well adjacent to the Pirates dugout. As a result, the existing netting needed to be replaced. That opened the door for a possible change in design.

MLB teams began installing extended down-the-dugouts netting two years ago, and the Pirates discovered eight to 10 more were following suit this season.

“One of the thought processes is,” Coonelly said, “if one of our fans was injured in an area where now a third of the teams have protective netting, it’d be very difficult to explain to that fan and their family why we didn’t take the same step that at least 10 other major league clubs took.”

Coonelly described the netting as “the most transparent product out on the market.” It will be installed on the front of the dugouts, meaning the Pirate Parrot and other in-game entertainers will be behind it – and remain in close proximity to fans.

For many, though, forever lost is the opportunity to catch a foul ball, interact with players as they come off the field or receive a ball tossed by one of the players.

“We’ve heard from some of our season-ticket holders who sit behind the dugout that they didn’t prefer the netting,” Coonelly said. “We heard from some others that they were very excited about the netting.”

The NHL in 2002 added protective netting above and behind goals extended across the width of the ice. Many fans initially expressed anger. But as time went on, the nets have become an accepted — and virtually unnoticed — part of attending a game.

“It was a struggle internally just in terms of our thought process,” Coonelly said of the Pirates’ decision. “But at the end of the day, and based on what I experienced myself last week in Bradenton (balls/bats flying into the seating area), we are convinced it was the right decision for the right reasons.”

Other changes at PNC Park:

• The out-of-town scoreboard in the right-field wall was replaced with an LED version that has full video capability. The Pirates, however, are keeping its appearance identical to the old light-bulb model during game play to preserve its traditional look. Between innings and before games, however, it can display video.

• The master field lighting also was replaced, again by LED bulbs that can be turned on or off or dimmed instantly. Coonelly said the effect is a sharper view that is more like natural sunlight.

• The grass playing surface was replaced.

About Redden Custom Netting

In 1958, John Redden started Redden Net Co. Ltd to supply commercial fishing gear to the fishing communities of the Pacific Northwest. Now, more than fifty years later, we have an in-house net loft staffed by professional, experienced net builders – and our executive team has more than 100 combined years of experience in every facet of industrial netting. So no matter what industry you’re in, if you need a net, we can build it.

Over the last fifty years, our technology, applications, and materials have become more complex, but our business philosophy remains simple. Treat employees and customers – right.  We do. And we’ll do it for you.

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