You likely recall this horrifying accident at Fenway Park last June.
There was a similar incident at Wrigley Field involving Addison Russell last April:
These aren't the only times this happened last season, nor in any season. It happens all the time; further, bats aren't the only things flying into seating areas close to home plate. Baseballs fouled off have hit fans with what seems to be increasing frequency over recent years. Last summer's incidents increased calls for netting that would go from dugout to dugout in most ballparks. There were some complaints from fans who pay a lot of money for close-up seating and didn't want their views partially blocked by nets, though you'd think they'd rather have that than a bat flying into their head.
Two weeks ago at the owners meetings, Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that this issue will be addressed and there could be concrete plans by next month:
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that it was "absolutely clear" that there would be changes. But there was more work to be done, he said, adding that he was not prepared to go into details. "In addition to a recommendation on the physical location of nets, there will be a broad fan education component to the program," Manfred said after owners had finished their quarterly meeting in Dallas. There were several instances of fans injured by foul balls at major league games this year. Manfred said that fan safety was paramount and that the 30 clubs had encouraged M.L.B. to move forward conceptually. He said there was an understanding of the outlines of the plans, but he did not want to elaborate until those details were "down in writing," perhaps when the owners meet in January.
It seems clear to me that putting nets from dugout to dugout would eliminate most (though not 100 percent) of fans being hit by bats and foul balls. Beyond the dugouts, it's unlikely a bat would fly quite that far without fans being able to see it coming, and the same for most foul balls. I believe there are types of netting that could be installed that would not interfere with the view of the game for fans close up to the action. Did you know that in Japan's Nippon Pro Baseball, nets are installed all the way from foul line to foul line? This photo of the Tokyo Dome is from 2006, and you can see how the netting is set up down the first-base line. I was there in 2000 for the Cubs/Mets opening series, and sat about halfway down the line between third base and the left-field wall, about 20 rows off the field. The netting was definitely there, but didn't interfere with being able to see the game clearly.
Obviously, this sort of thing wouldn't be tenable at ballparks in MLB. I'd also like to know more about the "fan education component" portion of this plan, something that was echoed by Cubs spokesman Julian Green in an email:
As the Commissioner stated last week, Major League Baseball is close to new recommendations for safety netting at its stadiums and ballparks for the 2016 season. In addition to a recommendation for the physical location of nets, there will be a broad fan education component to the program. Regarding our position, we take fan safety seriously and we will to work with MLB to ensure the environment to watch a game is safe and enjoyable for fans.
It's easy to get distracted at any ballpark, especially with video boards now being large and a center of fan attention. This isn't by any means intended to be a criticism of video boards; I like the ones at Wrigley Field very much. One of the things they could do is create a clever and interesting video that could be shown immediately before every game -- that way, most fans are actually in the park and watching it -- reminding people to pay closer attention to the game. These days, too, many fans are on their phones texting, tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, or looking up information on the excellent MLB At Bat app. I'm not sure how any education program is going to wean people off their phones -- since many people are using them pretty much everywhere, not just at the ballparks.
I hope that the Commissioner's office does make a strong recommendation to have dugout-to-dugout nets. That'd be a big help, and I am certain they could be designed in such a way so that up-close fans, who do pay a lot for their seats, won't have their view compromised.