NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In response to an increasing number of batted-ball injuries to fans, Major League Baseball announced a series of initiatives Wednesday aimed at better protecting spectators in high-risk areas of stadiums.
The most obvious plan, but one that has met with some pushback in the past, is the recommendation by the Commissioner’s Office to “implement or maintain netting [or another effective protective screen] that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts.”
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Some teams, including the Yankees, already employ this method during batting practice. But there has been reluctance to do so throughout the sport, especially during the games, because such netting — a variation of the backstop screen — may potentially detract from the enjoyment of watching from the ballpark’s most expensive seating areas.
Preserving that experience, which includes catching balls and interacting with players, remains a priority for Major League Baseball, as well as the individual clubs, so this recommendation “encourages” teams to do so rather than make it a mandate. The Commissioner’s Office has, however, retained a consultant who is prepared to help clubs implement the netting/screen suggestion at their request, as soon as possible.
Boston, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia immediately said they will follow the recommendation. The Phillies hope to install thinner material that is less noticeable.
“Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “At the same time it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls are less likely to enter.
“I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks, but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands.”
In addition to the protective screens, the Commissioner’s Office also recommended that teams “explore ways to educate their fans on these issues” and work to better identify which seats are protected for ticket-buyers.
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