After several injuries to fans this season — including another one Sunday in Cleveland — MLB teams have begun to consider extending nets from their current locations (the outfield ends of the dugouts) all the way to the foul poles.
Two teams — the White Sox and Nationals — have already extended nets to the foul poles in recent weeks. The Nats were rained out Monday, so the first game with extended netting was played at Guaranteed Rate Field on the South Side Monday evening. From NBC Sports Chicago, here’s a report on the new netting the Sox have installed [VIDEO].
The net will effectively be a wall, as balls that land in fair territory and bounce off the net will be in play, as will errant throws. That means there will be fewer ground-rule doubles and fewer instances of fan interference.
For White Sox games, this could mean quite a few more balls in play, as the walls down the lines at their park past the dugouts are quite low. Granted, most balls that go off the nets will likely be foul balls anyway, but this could wind up having plays at second base or third base on balls that previously would have gone into the stands.
When similar nets are placed at Wrigley Field — and I say “when,” not “if,” because it’s a near certainty that all teams will have these by 2020 — the same thing could happen. In recent weeks there have been several balls that have bounced into the stands along the left-field line after landing in fair territory for ground-rule doubles. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
Here’s an example from the Cubs’ recent homestand. This is from the game last Tuesday, July 16 against the Reds. There are two out in the sixth inning and Anthony Rizzo is at bat [VIDEO].
You can see Rizzo’s hit bounce in fair territory, then go into the seats on a single bounce off the warning track. When there are nets in that location, a ball hit like that will go off the net and remain in play. In that circumstance, it’s possible a runner could take third if (as in that play) the fielder dives and is out of position to get to the ball quickly. Or, it’s even possible — if the fielder is in position — that a runner could be thrown out at second instead of simply being given a double.
Teams will likely wind up practicing this during spring training next year. That means these kinds of nets will probably be installed at spring parks as well.
Baseball is always changing and adapting. The nets are being extended to keep fans safe. But they are likely going to make some changes in the way the game is played, too.