I’m sure you all recall this horrifying moment in Houston on May 29:
Fortunately, the little girl hit by a line drive foul ball by Albert Almora Jr. was okay, though it was revealed later that she had a skull fracture. You can see in the video how shaken Almora was by what happened.
That incident spurred more calls for netting to be extended past the ends of dugouts, where it had been extended by all 30 teams within the last couple of years. Since then, 11 teams have either announced they will be extending netting, have begun the process, or have the netting installed. Here are the teams and the dates:
Rangers, May 31: Will have netting at their new park when it opens in 2020
White Sox, June 18: Announced they would be installing netting to foul poles; the job was complete when they opened a homestand July 22
Nationals, June 20: Stated they would extend netting down foul lines; job was complete July 22. That game was rained out so their first game with new netting was July 23
Pirates, June 27: They will install extended netting as soon as logistical issues at PNC Park can be worked out
Orioles, July 12: Announced new netting would be in place “no later than the start of the 2020 season, if not at an earlier point in time”
Royals, July 15: New netting will be in place “perhaps as soon as this season,” though no specific date was announced
Dodgers, July 23: New netting would be in place “sometime in August,” though no specific timeline was announced
Blue Jays, August 6: Netting at the Rogers Centre and at the Jays’ spring park in Dunedin, Florida will be extended for the start of the 2020 season
Astros, August 8: Announced netting would be in place for their next homestand; it was unveiled August 19
Braves, August 19: Announced extended netting would be extended and the project would be completed “by the end of September”
Per this article by Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, the Marlins are the 11th team to say they will be intstalling extended netting, but I haven’t been able to find any specific link to that announcement.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, asked in early June about this issue, said he didn’t expect netting to be extended this year:
“Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” Manfred said. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with ‘beyond the dugout,’ I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But there is a balance here.
“We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”
“It’s very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year because they really are structural issues,” Manfred said. “But because safety is so important, I’m sure that conversation will begin and continue into the off-season.”
This is a statement that doesn’t acknowledge the real danger, and those who are “vocal” about not wanting to sit behind nets are in the minority, in my view. After the Almora incident, many players stood up and said they wanted extended netting in ballparks, and as you can see above, many teams took the initiative on their own and extended nets without any directive from the commissioner’s office.
I hope the Cubs will do the same. I will grant this: Given the configuration of Wrigley Field, it will not be easy to design a system for nets all the way to the foul pole. Here’s how the netting is attached on the third-base/left-field side of the ballpark:
As you can see, trying to get some kind of extended netting system all the way to the foul pole could likely be difficult because of the angled wall. The current net, extended to the outfield side of the dugout, is held up by some long wires, the last of them attached to a large steel beam that sits behind the foul pole. That was built in the early 1980s when the netting system was changed after Tribune Co. bought the team. The right-field side is attached to the corner of the upper deck. Why the difference, I don’t know, but it seems likely the Cubs might have to tear down the entire current netting system and start over in order to get nets extended to the foul pole. Or perhaps they could do what the Astros have done, extend them to where the seats become parallel with the foul line (where the jog in the wall is in that photo).
Cubs spokesman Julian Green told me in a statement, “We are currently exploring and researching expansion of protective netting. We will review all available options to determine the safest and enjoyable environment for our fans. In the meantime, we will continue to educate our fans about the potential for fly and foul balls entering the seating bowl.”
I hope that all 30 teams will have some sort of extended netting by Opening Day 2020, and that the Cubs can make an announcement soon about their process.