Quite a number of well-publicized incidents occurred last season involving fans being hit by foul balls into the stands, or by bats thrown accidentally into the seats by hitters. Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced the following recommendations to all teams regarding the safety of fans sitting in close-up seats at ballparks:
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. Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner’s Office recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area. The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said: "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. 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 and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.
"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."
So, we can likely expect the nets at Wrigley Field to be extended from their current position so that they're just about to the edge of each dugout -- that would cover the "within 70 feet of home plate" recommendation. At Wrigley Field the TV camera positions are both on the outfield side of the dugout, so it wouldn't seem as if that part of this recommendation would apply there. While this statement from MLB doesn't appear to be a mandate (it says "encouraged"), I would expect that all teams will have to be in compliance by Opening Day.
I'm glad MLB is taking this action to help protect fans from objects that can fly at speeds so rapid that even if you are paying close attention to every pitch, you might not be able to get out of the way if you're sitting that close to the field. Remember that Wrigley Field's home plate is only 46 feet in front of the wall, closer than MLB's recommended minimum distance of 60 feet -- the Cubs got a waiver to install additional seating between the dugouts. These new rules will help keep fans safer.