An incident in which a young girl was injured by a foul ball at Houston’s Minute Maid Park is prompting conversation about netting at ballparks, with many players calling for further protection for fans.
During Wednesday’s game at Minute Maid Park between the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, Cubs center fielderAlbert Almora Jr. hit a foul ball down the left-field line that struck a young girl sitting in the stands. The extended netting at Minute Maid Park meets Major League Baseball standards, running to the far end of the dugout, but the girl and her family were sitting just past the end of the netting down the third-base line, leaving them exposed to foul balls in their seats seven or eight rows back. The girl was taken to the hospital, with the Astros issuing a short statement on the matter following the game: “The young fan that was struck by a foul ball during tonight’s game was taken to the hospital. We are not able to disclose any further details at this time. The Astros send our thoughts and prayers to the entire family.”
There has been increased conversation in recent years about how protective netting should be implented in ballparks, and most recent surge in extending netting projects came ahead of the 2018 season–following an incident in which a young girl was severely struck by a foul at Yankee Stadium in September2017. MLB teams have extended their netting to the far ends of both dugouts, but a few have taken it even further. The New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, extended the netting all the way down the line, as did the Boston Red Sox at the team’s spring-training ballpark, JetBlue Park.
Judged by the reaction among players since Wednesday’s incident, they are largely support the installation of more netting at ballparks, with some even favoring the installation of netting from foul pole to foul. That includes a few members of the Chicago White Sox, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported in a story Thursday:
‘‘MLB has taken a few steps in the right direction extending the netting, but, honestly, it can go all the way down to the pole and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all,’’ Sox right-hander Evan Marshall said before the game Thursday against the Indians. ‘‘There’s not a player in here that wouldn’t be in favor of that.’’
Indeed, every Sox player who was asked about extending the netting said he thought MLB needed to take proper steps to protect everyone in every ballpark.
‘‘I’m a big believer in nets all around,’’ Sox first baseman/designated hitter Yonder Alonso said. ‘‘No. 1 is the safety of not only the players but of the fans and everybody in the baseball stadium. That’s the reason why we have nets [behind] the dugout. Two feet behind us are the fans, and they don’t have a net. That two feet is nothing when a ball is coming 110 miles per hour.’’
It is not surprising at this stage that most players would favor more protective netting. Almora was clearly shaken by Wednesday’s incident, and Kris Bryant was among his teammates calling on MLB to take action on the issue of netting following the game.
Over the coming months, look for there to be a continued dialogue about how far MLB should go in extending protective netting ballparks. The Texas Rangers are already planning for Globe Life Field to have extended netting approximately 150 feet further down the lines than the team’s current home, Globe Life Park, when it opens next year, and there will likely be more conversations about whether teams should extend the netting as far as the foul poles.
Of course, it is possible that any actions taken around MLB could have implications at the lower levels of baseball. Numerous Minor League Baseball, independent, and summer-collegiate league teams have extended protective netting at their facilities in recent years, and organizations at those levels of baseball could take a closer look at the safety measures within their ballparks.