Over the course of this fall and winter, as a growing group of clubs announced that they would be extending the protective netting down their base lines (moves that came largely in response to growing pressure to do so in the wake of a toddler being struck by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, an incident at Fenway Park, plus countless others), I’ve found myself grumbling in the direction of the Blue Jays (on Twitter, at least) for their lack of movement on this issue. Today, however, we learned that common sense has prevailed, as the club announced in a media release that they too will be extending their netting.
“The new netting will be extended to the outfield end of each dugout (Section 126 and 117, respectively), while the existing netting behind home plate will be replaced with new netting, and increased in height by approximately 10 ft,” the release explains. The club also claims that “the new state-of-the-art netting is designed to blend into the background and provide greater visibility, ensuring fans can remain close to the action in a safe manner, without compromising the viewing experience.”
While I don’t doubt its veracity, the latter statement is surely an attempt to assuage the concerns of the small but vocal group of fans who might object to their sight lines being blurred — a group that… exists? I think? But that really doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this “debate”:
Protective netting debate has always been a strange one. Baseball fans universally agree that seats right behind home plate are the best ones, where you're looking through netting. Who cares if more are like that?
— The_Road_Guy (@The_Road_Guy) January 15, 2018
Even more to the point is the fact that it feels like we’re not too many serious incidents away from extended netting being mandated by the league anyway, so why the hell not just be proactive about it? Especially in this era of high exit velocities and giant distractions sitting in every fan’s pocket, the potential for disaster is very real, and too often right there in front of us. As the Times article linked above notes, the toddler was the third person struck by a foul ball or shattered bat at Yankee Stadium in 2017. The image I’ve used a the top of this post shows a fan being escorted toward medical attention after being struck at Rogers Centre this summer. We’ve all seen the close calls. You just… you don’t want to be hockey on this — a sport that was spurred to make changes after the tragic death of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil in Columbus in 2002.
That awful story illuminates another side of this issue: the concerns of the players. In a Columbus Dispatch piece nine years after Cecil’s death, it’s written that Espen Knutsen, who shot the puck that was deflected into the stands and struck the teen, found it difficult to continue playing after the incident. “It really shook me, my teammates and everyone around the team more than people could ever know,” he said.
You can see that sort of anguish in the pictures of Todd Frazier and Yankees third base coach Joe Espada that appear in the Times piece. And it’s telling that Tim Lieper, the Blue Jays’ first base coach, who is in the line of fire more often than just about anybody — and gets a close-up view on a regular basis of just how hard balls are rocketing into the stands — reacted to the announcement like this:
Yes !!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/EPgzx6Gg5x
— @tleiper34 (@tleiper34) January 15, 2018
And I mean… like… holy fuck:
Re this RT … as much as you'd prefer an open view, someone was gonna die, man.https://t.co/sQuZrNYZDu
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) January 15, 2018
Jesus. (And another other thing is that not only does Bourne know the feeling of having a deflected shot fly up into the crowd, he knows just how bad it is to get hit by a shot too.)
Another key point is this one (though, to be needlessly picky, I’m not sure I agree that it’s the more important detail):
The more important detail with that netting is that they’re raising the one behind home. It was always ridiculously short, so low, blazing, foul ball liners would rocket into those back seats. Catching them would break your hand. Now that won’t happen.
— Joshua (@JoshuaHowsam) January 15, 2018
So… yeah. Not that a whole lot of people were going to be dumb enough do this anyway, but kindly piss the fuck off if your instinct here is to whine about having to watch the game through netting.