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Netting in Major League Parks: To Extend or Not to Extend

Netting is a hot topic in Major League Baseball and will be as long as fans continue to be injured by balls and bats. There are people who advocate for extended netting in all parks, both minor and major league, to either the end of dugouts or all the way to either foul pole. Others want netting left how it is; fans do not want their view to be obstructed by a net, especially when those seats cost a premium price.

Tickets typically include a printed warning about the danger of flying objects. There is also a note about the fan attending a game at their own risk. Such a warning is typically looked over, as the more important information on a ticket is gate entry, section, row and seat number. Most fans are aware that there is a chance a ball could come their way during the game.

Netting in Major League ParksThe pros of extended netting at stadiums are obvious: fans are better protected from flying objects such as foul balls and the occasional bat. People can watch the game or stare at their phones for as long as they want without the fear of being struck by a ricochet line drive. If there were more netting, families could feel safer about sitting as close as they want without worry about being injured.

I have been to numerous games and sat either behind netting or with a clear view of the field. I watch pretty much every pitch and always know if I am in a foul ball situation based on a lefty or righty hitter. Most fans do not think that far into the game. There is a much more personal feel without a net between fans and the field. Netting would take away a large value of attending a game.

If you get to a game early enough to watch batting practice, dugout areas are filled with fans looking to get autographs, pictures, and souvenirs. Netting would eliminate this interaction and devalue the appreciation of seeing big leaguers up close. A possible solution could be a retractable net that is raised before the game and lowered once the game begins. I have not seen retractable netting that could be easily and quickly put in place, but that would be a way to keep fan interaction in tact as well as increase fan safety.

Nets DO block the view despite what “net technology enthusiasts” claim, and fans that want to see the game have a legitimate complaint about the net obstruction. If you are sitting behind home plate and can see the entire field straight ahead, a net is not as much of a visual distraction. If you are sitting along the foul lines, you need to look left and right to see action as it happens. A net will not prevent you from seeing plays, but it can prevent you from seeing it clearly as you readjust your eyes and depth perception each time. I am not an expert in these fields, but I am speaking from first hand experience.

Netting in Major League Parks

Netting to the foul pole would devalue seats close to the field

The idea of netting extending to the end of dugouts seems plausible. The idea of netting to the foul poles is absurd. There is only so much that can be done to protect fans without compromising the value of attending a game. I am not sure how many teams inform their fans of seat locations with or without netting protection, but that step needs to be taken before installing copious amounts of netting. Fans purchasing tickets need to take it upon themselves to sit in safe locations if they have small children or will not actually be paying attention to the game.

It never fails, for whatever reason, that I sit next to people who don’t really know baseball. People are either on their phones texting or checking social media, or talking about non-baseball topics the entire game. These are extremes, but if you are going to an event, you should have some idea of where you are sitting and what could possibly happen (a foul ball coming into the stands). I even get scared for beer vendors with their back to the field when a batter strikes a ball. They never seem to flinch though.

Statcast has become a way for every action on a field to be calculated in numbers. Foot speed, bat speed, exit velocity, etc have been shown on broadcasts for the last few seasons and are changing the available data to baseball executives. These numbers could encourage teams to install netting if there is a connection to be made between foul balls and fan safety.

I only refer to foul balls because there is no discussion about adding netting to the outfield. Fans usually can see a home run coming for a few seconds before the ball reaches them, as opposed to a foul ball that reaches the dugout in less than a second.

This segment on HBO’s Real Sports gives a glimpse of the actions that could happen at a baseball game. The biggest problem with this experiment is that there is no pitcher throwing the ball or hitter swinging a bat. There is only a machine firing the ball. Many fans would not notice the ball even with movement of players on the field indicating a ball coming their direction, but there is never a ball that simply comes out of nowhere.

There are countless people both for and against additional netting in baseball stadiums. Despite the enjoyment of watching without a net obstruction, I believe Major League Baseball will increase its required netting based off the distance of seats from home plate. Safety will always be a key issue, and it seems in baseball’s best interest to make stadiums safer. I would have a hard time paying the same high prices to sit behind a net though.

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