Syracuse, N.Y. — Fans sitting behind the dugouts at NBT Bank Stadium will have some extra protection from stray baseballs and bats beginning this season.
Syracuse Chiefs general manager Jason Smorol announced at an open house on Saturday that the team is expanding its safety netting.
The new netting will run from the outside end of the home dugout to the outside end of the visitor’s dugout and be 30 feet high. The netting is a welded seam netting with no tied knots to achieve 97 percent visibility.
“The new netting is very thin. It has no knots in it,” Smorol said. “I was in Tacoma (for a game) last year, and I couldn’t see the net. I was in the outfield and I looked back and I said, those people (behind the plate) are all going to die because there’s no netting there. And then I looked close and I was like, there is a netting there. It made me feel so much better. This is the kind of netting that we’re going to get.”
The Onondaga County Legislature approved the installation of the new netting in early February. Smorol said he did not know its cost.
Major league commissioner Rob Manfred recommended that all MLB teams install netting from the end of the dugouts for this season and the minor leagues have adopted that same policy.
Starting last season and within the next three years all teams in the International League and several more within the minors will have the extended netting.
Smorol said there are several instances every season when fans behind the dugouts are clipped with baseballs. That potential problem grows worse with so many fans checking their phones during play.
“It’s insane to get hit by baseballs,” Smorol said. “It has been a long time coming. I couldn’t be more excited that our fans can just be safe. The speed of the game, you just can’t react in time.”
A fan asked Smorol how the expanded netting would impact the ability for children behind the dugouts to get free baseballs. Players from both teams typically flip balls into the stands before games and on their way off the field when innings end.
Smorol said that issue will be addressed, perhaps by players reaching around the screen to distribute balls and/or setting up another area where youths could wait for the tosses.