Phillies to Extend Protective Netting
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies plan to extend protective netting near the dugouts for the 2016 MLB season.
The Phillies will extend netting at both their big league home at Citizens Bank Park in South Philly, and at their Spring Training home of Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.
The changes will mean that netting previously installed behind home plate will be extended another ten feet on either side, stretching to the near-end of the two dugouts.
Also, the new netting will be stronger, but thinner, so it should provide increased protection while allowing fans who sit behind the netting an even better view of the action.
“If that foul ball is hit hard enough, reaction time is basically zero and life-threatening injury is certain. This is a needless risk.” ~ lawyer Robert Hilliard
Philly.com’s Matt Breen recently quoted a statement from the club’s chief operating officer Michael Stiles on this issue:
“We understand that our fans differ in their opinions about sitting behind protective netting, and we will do our best to accommodate those different preferences. We will take the opportunity in the upcoming season to remind all of our fans about the importance of being alert to the possibility of balls and bats entering the stands throughout the ballpark.”
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While in Philadelphia to attend a late-August game between the Phils and the division rival New York Mets, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the league would release formal recommendations to each club in the coming months based on studies showing where balls and bats enter the stands most frequently, different types of safety netting available, as well as fan input.
As reported by MLB.com’s Paul Hagen at that time, Manfred stated: “This is a topic that is of serious concern, not only to me but more importantly to all 30 owners. We discussed it in August [at the Owners Meetings in Chicago]. We have a process ongoing where we are examining all of the relevant information.”
At baseball’s Winter Meetings in early December, those recommendations came down in a statement that read in part:
"Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation."
In announcing the recommendations, Manfred came out with a further statement that read in part, as quoted by CBSsports.com’s Matt Snyder: “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.”
Fans who are not used to sitting in the areas nearest the dugout ends closest to home plate will likely notice little difference. The new netting will not, for instance, extend out over the dugouts themselves, or on down the base lines. At least that is not the recommendation from MLB. Such netting would be in excess of those recommendations, and would be an individual club decision.
Back in July, a Oakland Athletics season ticket holder sued in federal court to force MLB clubs to extend safety netting all the way down the foul lines. The class-action suit was on behalf of fans who sit in unprotected areas, and seeks no monetary compensation or damages.
A lawyer in the case, Steve Berman, was quoted by the Associated Press: “I think it’s important when you have an issue like this not to monetize it, not to say it’s about people trying to get a bunch of money.”
Another lawyer involved in the case, Robert Hilliard, was also quoted in that same AP story. “Every type of fan is constantly at risk of serious injury or death. If that foul ball is hit hard enough, reaction time is basically zero and life-threatening injury is certain. This is a needless risk. Extending the nets will, as a fact, save lives.“
What the Phillies are doing in both South Philly and in Clearwater is the minimum as recommended by Major League Baseball. Whether it will be enough to actually reduce those life-threatening injury situations is still to be determined, but at least it is a step in the right direction for fan safety.